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Middletown residents gather to remember life of state lawmaker killed in crash

Cayes Jarda (center) and his 10-year-old son Owen Dach attend the vigil for Rep. Quentin "Q" Williams, Jarda's friend since middle school, at the South Green in Middletown on January 06, 2023.
Joe Amon
Connecticut Public
Cayes Jarda (center) and his 10-year-old son, Owen Dach, attend the vigil for state Rep. Quentin "Q" Williams, Jarda's friend since middle school, at the South Green in Middletown on Jan. 6, 2023.

Middletown residents gathered Friday, Jan. 6, on Middletown’s South Green to honor the life of Quentin Williams, a 39-year-old state representative known as “Q.”

Williams, a Democrat from Middletown, was killed early Thursday morning when his car was hit by a wrong-way driver on Route 9 in Cromwell, only hours after he was sworn in to a third term.

State and local lawmakers spoke at the candlelight vigil, which had hundreds of attendees. Speakers expressed sadness and surprise over the death of Williams — a rising political star with a passion for representing his hometown community.

Connecticut House Speaker Matt Ritter (D-Hartford) praised Williams for his passionate progressivism.

“We weren’t ready for Q,” said Ritter. “There’s a legacy that we have to leave for him.”

Ritter was echoing an earlier statement from state Sen. Matt Lesser (D-Middletown), who learned of his longtime friend’s death by phone just a few hours after the crash.

“His infectious laugh, his optimism, love for Middletown was something that permeated the entire community,” Lesser said of Williams, who was in the senator’s wedding. “He was a larger-than-life figure. We’re just numb. We’re in shock.”

Lesser had recruited Williams to run for his old House seat.

“(Wednesday) night, with the governor’s ball, he got pulled into a work meeting with his labor (committee) co-chair, and they were fiercely coming up with plans for the incoming legislative session,” Lesser told the Associated Press. “So it’s just, it’s just gut-wrenching.”

The committee was originally scheduled to hold its first meeting Thursday. But after news of Williams' death, legislative leaders announced they had closed the state Capitol and Legislative Office Building, postponing all legislative activities until Monday.

Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, a Middletown resident, said she knew and worked with Williams for nearly 20 years.

“Raised by a single mother, Queen Williams, ‘Q’ ardently believed in the power of uplifting women,” Bysiewicz said in a statement. “Recently, ‘Q’ changed his last name to Williams to honor his mother, who worked hard and sacrificed in order to raise him into the amazing man he was.”

Middletown Mayor Ben Florsheim shared that his friendship with Williams began when Florsheim was an undergraduate student at Wesleyan University, through the Wesleyan Democrats’ connections with Williams, who was then Middletown's treasurer.

“Quentin taught me that ... it was possible to be in politics and to be a real person at the same time,” Florsheim said. “[He was] a person who, through hell or high water, was going to find joy, was going to make joy.”

Williams, who leaves behind his wife and mother, was the first Black person to represent Middletown in the General Assembly, according to a biography on his legislative web page. He grew up in public housing in Middletown, the only child of a single mother who worked at the state psychiatric hospital in town, Lesser said.

Williams attended Middletown schools and earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Bryant University and a master’s degree in public administration from Villanova University. He was pursuing studies at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government at the time of his death.

“He was incredibly proud of his education, Middletown High School and him being able to succeed and graduate from college and then go on to graduate school,” Lesser said. “He loved the community. He knew everybody.”

Lesser announced at the vigil that Bryant University plans to create a full scholarship in Williams’ name.

This story has been updated. Connecticut Public Radio’s Frankie Graziano and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached at pskahill@ctpublic.org.

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