Santa Fe city worker killed on job was ‘bright spirit’

April 8, 2019

Thoughtful, sensitive and inquisitive, and a lover of classical studies, Toby Williams had planned to enroll in graduate school this fall at the University of New Mexico to study archaeology.

Williams, 27, died last week from injuries sustained in an electrical accident Monday, when he was working on a light fixture at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center. Williams, who had been working for the city of Santa Fe as a mechanical structural apprentice since Sept. 4, was hospitalized in Denver for treatment of severe burns, but he died there Wednesday, according to his father, Neil Williams.

The city’s Risk Management and Safety Department and the Occupational Health and Safety Bureau of the New Mexico Environment Department are investigating Williams’ death, but findings were not yet available Saturday.

Reached by phone Saturday, members of Williams’ family said they were heartbroken.

“Toby’s a bright spirit, and he drew the family together,” his father said. “He was thoughtful and quirky and fun, sensitive to other people and just a good friend.”

Some of Neil Williams’ fondest memories of his son were of Toby helping family members build a barn at their farm in Taos County, he said.

The youngest of three brothers, Toby Williams, was born and raised in northeast Santa Fe, his family said. From an early age, he showed a passion for the outdoors, ancient languages and philosophy. He attended Bard College in New York’s Hudson Valley and studied classics.

An avid tree-climber as a child, Williams had picked up skills as an arborist in college. He traveled to Rome, Hong Kong, Tibet, Taiwan and Japan, and played piano, mandolin and violin.

“He was incredibly intellectual and observant and interesting,” said his mother, Alex Williams. But her son didn’t put on airs and enjoyed being around regular folks, she said.

Toby Williams and his mother would go on walks in the countryside, and he would sometimes walk circles around her playfully, offering up one of his favorite Latin expressions, “sic transit gloria mundi,” translated as “Thus passes the glory of the world.”

“He’d catch a moment,” his mother recounted, crying. “He would suddenly look at you and say with his eyes, ‘Do you get it?’ ”

Last year, Williams, who would have turned 28 this month, returned to New Mexico to prepare for graduate school. His father said he had been interested in the Pueblo and Chacoan cultures as a young man and had explored Native American sites in Northern New Mexico with his family.

He had been living with his father and stepmother.

“We are so grateful now that we had that time with him,” said Paige Grant, Toby’s stepmother and Neil Williams’ wife, who had known Toby since he was a child. Grant said Toby had become a more mature and “very wise” version of himself by the time he moved back to New Mexico, and was gifted in resolving family disputes.

In recent days, Grant said, she looked into Toby’s room and saw his telescope, bookshelf, a collection of dried roses hanging from strings over his desk, along with eight little yellow notes with ancient Greek sayings on them.

The family has reached out to a professor for help translating the phrases. The professor told the family, “I feel like I’m communing with a brother,” Grant said, and told them Toby was a philosopher.

Williams’ co-workers at the city have been devastated by his death and have reached out to his family, according to family members and city officials.

“He really liked that team there,” his father said. “It was a pleasure of his to work with them.”

In the wake of his son’s death, Neil Williams, an environmental engineer in Santa Fe, said, “I want the city to review its procedures and practices. I want the city to improve safety on all of its work sites.”

Acting city spokeswoman Kristine Mihelcic said Saturday that after the tragedy, convention center workers have been advised to use “great caution” and “elevated alertness” on their jobs.

Toby Williams’ parents are still planning a funeral and are reaching out to community members who knew their son about plans for a memorial. Anyone who would like to attend is asked to contact Neil Williams at 505-428-0612 or Alex Williams at 505-570-4664.