Cover photo for Corliss "Cookie" Williams's Obituary
Corliss "Cookie" Williams Profile Photo

Corliss "Cookie" Williams

May 4, 1934 — February 8, 2023

Corliss "Cookie" Williams

Corliss "Cookie" Williams, wife of the Marion Williams, passed away February 8, 2023.

Funeral services will be held at 10:45 am at Burns United Methodist Church, with visitation starting at 10 am.

Interment will be at the Iowa Veteran's Cemetery at 2 pm.

Corliss Gayle Johnson Williams was born in Iola, Kansas on May 4, 1934, to Reba H. Johnson, a homemaker, and Clarence J. Johnson, an environmental engineer for the City of Chanute, Kansas. Known to all who loved her as “Cookie,” Corliss graduated from Chanute High School on May 23,1952 and attended Wichita State University, until 1954 when she married her high school sweetheart, Marion Edward Williams. The couple honeymooned in Kansas City, Missouri.

While her husband established Williams Pharmacy on Center Street, in the heart of the Des Moines black business community, Corliss worked at the Preferred Risk Mutual Insurance Company (now GuideOne) before enrolling in Drake University, where she matriculated and graduated with honors in Education in 1966.

Corliss was active in civic groups. She worked in Democratic political organizing, supported the Des Moines Human Rights Commission, participated in women’s social clubs and worked to build inter-racial and inter-religious understanding engaging with The Sisterhood at Temple B’Nai Jeshurun. In 1968 she pledged Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc..

She was a woman of faith and an active member of the Des Moines Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In 1963 she was Co-chairman in charge of organizing the Iowa Delegation to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Working with Mrs. A. June Franklin, who later served in the Iowa General Assembly from 1969-1971, Corliss mobilized youth, branch members and activists across Iowa in partnership with the American Friends Service. She traveled with nearly 40 others to the nation’s capital for a civil rights march that brought more than a quarter million people to the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

In a letter written in response to an editorial published in the Des Moines Register on August 15, 1963, Mrs. Williams wrote: “So often one hears the question, ‘Do demonstrations accomplish anything?’ For the American citizen who knows through experience the frustration of loving a country whose government politics with your guaranteed rights, the answer to this question is unequivocally yes.”

An ardent supporter of President John F. Kennedy’s civil rights bill, Mrs. Williams exhorted Iowans to join the march and offer support by writing their congressmen. Activism “answers that imperious call to stand up and be counted.”

In the days leading up to the march, Corliss called upon all churches and synagogues in Iowa to pray “for the march to be peaceful, dignified and effective.” On Capitol Hill, while in Washington, she participated in meetings with Iowa’s Senators and three congressmen. Upon her return to Des Moines, she said: “This was the most impressive thing that ever happened to me. I think the march will accomplish more than anyone anticipated because it will affect the conscience of people everywhere.”

Mrs. Williams graduated with honors in Education from Drake University in 1966. She taught English Literature at East and Hoover high schools and later served as a Vice Principal at Amos Hiatt Middle School. She retired from Des Moines University, where she held administrative roles.

Throughout the years, she was an active member of St. Paul A.M.E. Church before coming to Burns United Methodist Church. She served both congregations as a musician, playing the piano and organ.

By the time she exchanged mortality for immortality, Cookie had lived 88 very full years. She had traveled the world to enjoy Grand Slam tennis, inspire her faith in the Holy Land, shop in all the European capitals, explore Asia with her daughter, cruise most of the planet’s major oceans and seas and especially enjoy a trip to Bora Bora, Tahiti to commemorate her 60th wedding anniversary and a grandson’s graduation from college.

Corliss was preceded in death by her beloved husband Marion; her parents, Mrs. and Mrs. Johnson; and her sister and brother, Emma D. Johnson and Clarence D. Johnson.

Among those who will always love her are her children, the Rev. Julie Johnson Staples, J.D. and her husband, Dr. Brent A. Staples; and Mark E. Williams and his wife, Michelle Williams; her grandchildren, Justin David Johnson, Mr. and Mrs. Anthony J. Williams, Aaron J. Williams and Ashley J. Williams and one great-granddaughter, Mercedes Williams. She also is survived by her sisters-in-law, Mrs. Clarence D. Johnson (Jacki) and Mrs. Betty Bershell; and remaining siblings, Mr. and Mrs. John Jerrell Johnson, Mrs. Sandra S. Johnson and Dr. Betty L. Lessard; and a host of nieces and nephews and loving friends.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Corliss "Cookie" Williams, please visit our flower store.

Past Services


Tuesday, February 14, 2023

10:00 - 10:45 am

Enter your phone number above to have directions sent via text. Standard text messaging rates apply.

Funeral Service

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Starts at 10:45 am

Enter your phone number above to have directions sent via text. Standard text messaging rates apply.


Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Starts at 2:00 pm

Enter your phone number above to have directions sent via text. Standard text messaging rates apply.


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