Skip to main content
NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

NCI’s Williams Is Mourned

Dr. Joy Ann Williams

Dr. Joy Ann Williams

Dr. Joy Ann Williams of Bethesda passed away at the age of 55 on Nov. 18, 2016, after a 4-year battle with ovarian cancer. She was born in Arlington, Va., and obtained bachelor’s degrees in biology and piano performance from Oberlin College and Conservatory. She earned a master’s degree in molecular biology and a Ph.D. in immunology from the University of Maryland.

As a graduate student, she worked at the National Cancer Institute as a pre-doctoral Intramural Research Training Award fellow in the Laboratory of Genetics under Dr. Michael Potter. She then worked as a biologist under her graduate mentor, Dr. Emily Shacter, first in the Laboratory of Genetics, and later in the FDA Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. The year after earning her Ph.D., Williams joined the laboratory of Dr. Richard Hodes in NCI’s Experimental Immunology Branch as a postdoctoral fellow. She then worked as a regulatory/research scientist at the FDA. In 2006, Williams’ love of basic research brought her back to Hodes’ lab at NIH as a staff scientist.

Williams had an intense and infectious love of science, said coworkers. She brought intellect and commitment to her work and was a successful and productive scientist, they recall. In her most recent work, she advanced the understanding of the biology of thymic development and the cross-talk between thymic epithelium and the developing T-cell repertoire. Her acknowledged expertise in this area, both intellectual and technical, made her a resource at NIH as well as to the international immunology community; she generously helped those who approached her.

This generosity and sincere interest in helping others were constants in Williams’ life, colleagues said, adding, “Joy was a consummate teacher and mentor.” In her years at NIH, she taught courses through the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology and at the University of Maryland’s University College. Over her years in the lab, post-bacs, post-docs and colleagues had the good fortune of knowing Williams’ extraordinary ability to teach and inspire via her unique perspectives and sense of humor.

Williams’ love of music continued throughout her life, with performances on piano, flute and accordion. After a 2010 piano concert at the Clinical Research Center, she was quoted in The Scientist: “Playing the piano focuses me” and “absorbs my mind in different ways than science.” Williams remained active in a variety of music activities, including teaching, accompanying other musicians and performing.

Williams was known for her brilliant smile. She loved to ride her bicycle to work on the Capital Crescent Trail and took delight in her trio of dogs. She was reliably cheerful, optimistic and hardworking. Williams is survived by her husband, Todd R. Smyth, her parents Harrison Brownell Williams and Ann Peterson Williams, her sister Julie Arrighetti, her brother-in-law Craig Arrighetti and her nephew Nicholas Arrighetti.

Gifts in Williams’ memory may be directed to support ovarian cancer research at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center. Checks should be made payable to Johns Hopkins University. Gifts may be mailed with a memo indicating that the gift is in memory of Joy Ann Williams to the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, P.O. Box 17029 Baltimore, MD 21297-1029 or make a gift online (

Back to Top