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Friday, Apr 18, 2014
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Fire leads to tragedy for Ruskin couple

Published:   |   Updated: February 1, 2014 at 12:03 AM

TAMPA — She was independent, strong-minded and determined. He was patient and calm.

After getting married in 1956 in Minnesota, Carol and Richard Williams moved to Clair-Mel in 1961 with their three children. They had a fourth child here.

Eight years later, they bought a home on Alafia Drive in Riverview. They worked hard, provided for their family and saw their children and grandchildren grow. She gardened. He took care of his classic Corvette, collected movies and enjoyed reading.

Their quiet, well-lived life turned tragic this week when their home was consumed by fire.

Carol Williams, 77, died in the Monday morning fire. Richard Williams, 83, is still at Tampa General Hospital, where he's being treated for heavy smoke inhalation and severe burns on his hands, said their eldest child, Cheryl Leigh.

Fire investigators told the family the fire started from a frayed wire on a heating pad Carol Williams had set on her recliner, Leigh said.

About 7 a.m., a neighbor smelled smoke and called 911. He knocked on the bedroom window, and Richard Williams woke up. He was knocked off his feet by the fire's back draft, a move that left him unconscious on the floor and might have saved his life, Leigh said.

Firefighters found Carol Williams, who was not burned, dead on the kitchen floor, Leigh said. A cause of death hasn't yet been determined, Leigh said.

The family home was severely damaged, Leigh said. She walked through the home this week and was moved by family memories of their lives together at their Riverview home.

Richard Williams, who had served in the U.S. Army, got a job with grocery distributor Florida Retail Owned Grocers (FROG) in Tampa as a bookkeeper and accountant. He later worked for IBM as a programmer. He also did home inspections for a Tampa home contracting business and sold life insurance for New York Life.

“My father was very affectionate,” Leigh said. “He was a good father. He was a hands-on father.”

When they bought the Riverview house, Carol Williams worked at two Clearwater restaurants. She would drive home at night carrying a gun under her driver's seat, Leigh said.

“She was very independent,” Leigh said. “She didn't require assistance or want it.”

Carol Williams, a former member of the Tampa Junior Women's Club, later worked at American Auto Salvage in Riverview and Con-Agra in Brandon doing office work.

At home, she baked, sewed, wrote poetry and tended to the garden.

“She was industrious to the last minute,” Leigh said.

“They were great parents in so many ways,” Leigh said. “They were traditional — made sure we had the things we needed and made sure we had fun.”

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Twitter: @jpatinoTBO