Clayton's Village Market founder dies at 87

Clayton’s Village Market founder dies at 87

Clayton's Village Market founder dies at 87
Donald Ray Williams

CLAYTON, CA (Dec. 8, 2021) — Donald Ray Williams, Clayton rancher and original owner of the Village Market in Clayton, died Nov. 2 after a long illness. He was 87.

Williams opened his first store on Port Chicago Highway in Concord in 1961 and operated it until 1994.

In 1972 he and wife Carmen moved to Clayton and opened their second store in a small building on Main Street. In 1978 he built a larger store down the street and painted it blue. He sold the store to the Sandhu family in the late 1990s. Although now beige, locals still refer to the current Village Market as “the blue store.”

“He gave many kids in Clayton their first job, myself included,” daughter Maria Forester said in her eulogy at Williams’ Celebration of Life Nov. 17.

In addition to running the store, Williams was also the butcher.

“Pretty much we had steak for dinner every night,” she said. “Except for Fridays when my mom said we had to have fish.”

Williams was one of six children born in Oklahoma on a cotton farm in the middle of the Great Depression. He spent most of his childhood and teen years migrating with his family between Oklahoma and the Bay Area, finally settling in Albany in 1951. Williams attended Albany High School where he met his future wife, Carmen La Rossa.

An unlikely match

“They were a very unlikely match,” Forester said. “My dad was scrappy, he wasn’t afraid of a fight, he liked to drink and smoke cigarettes and he was poor. My mother was beautiful, very Catholic, prudish well-off and musical.” They married in 1959 and were parents to four children three of them adopted, who were all raised on the family ranch on Morgan Territory Rd. They were married for 68 years. Carmen Williams died in January 2020.

Williams enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1957 and served for two years stationed at the San Francisco Presidio.

After retiring in 2001, Williams continued to manage several commercial properties he owned.

When not working, he would occasionally take a Sunday off for a horse show or fishing on his boat in the Delta.

“(My dad) loved SPAM, black-eyed peas and okra,” Forester said. “He was an amazing dancer, an impeccable bookkeeper…and he could flip his eyelids inside out.”

“He was living proof that hard work pays off…and he was my first love.”