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Cecil Williams, co-founder of Glide Foundation, dies. He was 94

A man speaks at a podium.
The Rev. Cecil Williams died Monday in San Francisco, the Glide Memorial Church announced. | Source: Liz Hafalia/SF Chronicle/Getty

San Francisco spiritual leader and civil rights icon Rev. Cecil Williams died Monday. He was 94.

Williams was surrounded by family and friends at the time of his death, according to Karl Robillard, a spokesperson for the Glide Foundation, the charity organization Williams cofounded in connection with his work as a pastor at Glide Memorial Church. No cause of death was provided at this time.

The news was announced to the foundation's board and staff in an email from its CEO Gina Fromer.

"With Reverend Cecil Williams’ passing, we have lost an incomparable champion of social justice, civil and human rights, and liberation theology," Fromer said in the email.

A pastor gives a sermon.
Rev. Cecil Williams delivers a sermon at the Glide Memorial Church in April 1971. | Source: Robert Altman/Getty Images

In a statement, Mayor London Breed mourned Williams, praising him for the social service programs he created with his late wife, Janice Mirikitani, through the church and the foundation.

"What he created at Glide Memorial Church, along with his partner Janice Mirikitani, saved and transformed countless lives," Breed said. "Their impact will never be matched."

Williams took over as minister for Glide Memorial Church in 1964 and later cofounded the foundation, which is based in the Tenderloin and provides services to homeless people and other marginalized groups. Williams retired in February 2023. Mirikitani passed away in 2021.

Glide offers drug recovery services, child care and services for domestic violence victims. The church's daily free meal program, which began in 1969, serves 2,000 meals a day, according to the foundation's website.

"All of us fighting for recovery from addiction, LGBTQ+ equality, HIV/AIDS services, human dignity, or God’s grace stand on the shoulders of giants. And no giant stood taller than Cecil Williams, whose loss San Francisco mourns today," Supervisor Matt Dorsey said on X.

An elderly lady using a cane walks past various onlookers, including two men in high-visibility vests.
Reverend Cecil Williams, left, watches the lines at Glide Memorial Church as they gave away over 6,000 bags of food. | Source: Liz Hafalia/SF Chronicle/Getty

Supervisor Dean Preston, who represents the Tenderloin where Glide is based, said Williams "represented the best of San Francisco."

"Through his tireless work, vision, kindness, compassion and commitment to civil rights and social justice, Rev. Williams inspired so many people and brought help and hope to those in need, especially here in the Tenderloin and beyond,” Preston told The Standard via text.

California State Assemblymember Matt Haney said he remembers Williams for his kindness and ability to make people feel loved and special.

"He was unapologetic in his love for all people," Haney said in a Monday post on X. "If you were sick, discarded, alone, homeless, addicted, he looked you in your eyes and he saw your humanity, he saw your potential and your greatness, he believed in you so much that you believed in yourself."

Williams had dealt with illness prior to his death.

He was hospitalized in September 2023 because of Covid-19, sparking a move from his Glen Park home to Coterie, an assisted living center six blocks west of Glide, according to a December New York Times report. He spent his days there watching the news, attending panels on current events, doing physical therapy and taking tai chi classes.

“I came here to live,” Williams told the Times. “I didn’t come here to die."

When asked about San Francisco's declining reputation, he said at the time: “We have serious problems, but I think we can face it because we’ve faced it before."

"We still have a commitment for humanity," Williams said. "We don’t give in. We go on. We’re just beginning."

Memorial plans are still being arranged.

Garrett Leahy can be reached at