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Ray Williams, advocate for Upper Newport Bay preserve, dies

Ray Williams, advocate for Upper Newport Bay preserve, dies
Ray Williams

A memorial service will be held this weekend for a former Newport Beach city councilman.

Ray Williams, an early advocate of the Upper Newport Bay ecological preserve, died of natural causes at his home in Lake Arrowhead Aug. 15. He was 79.


Williams “stood in the front lines” with others during the efforts in the 1970s to protect the bay area from development, according to his wife, Tatyana “Mary” Melnikoff.

The nature-enthusiast lived in Newport Beach for 12 years, beginning in 1969, she said. During that time, he served as a Newport Beach planning commissioner and as a city council member.


From 1978 to 1980, Williams assumed the role of mayor pro tem during the second half of his four-year council term.

“He really had a very strong passion for environmental issues, especially in the upper Newport Bay,” said Jack Keating, who became involved with the preserve in the 1990s.

Even after moving out of Newport, Williams remained active in the Friends of Newport Bay community group, which was founded to advocate for the area, Keating said.

For a time, Williams traveled in order to continue attending board meetings.


A long-time science teacher, Williams was born with his passion for nature, Melnikoff said.

Williams, raised in Whittier, earned an undergraduate degree in biology from San Jose State University and two master’s degrees, in education and in environmental sciences, respectively, from Whittier College.

Throughout his teaching career, he contributed to several nature sanctuaries. At Whittier’s California High School, where he taught in the biology department and led the science club, he developed the school’s botanical gardens.

In 1968, when he joined Rio Hondo College, Williams started the Rio Hondo College Wildlife sanctuary, developed courses in ecology and launched the biology department’s natural history museum.


Ray lived by the motto, “Make it worthwhile, in a positive way, that you existed,” Melnikoff recalled.

He believed that one should live for a cause in order to be assured of contributing something meaningful to the world.

“You try to leave it a better place,” she explained, “and he did.”

Williams enjoyed traveling on natural history and cultural study expeditions in Hawaii with family, friends and students. He also loved camping, playing the banjo and driving his ’57 Chevy.

A memorial service in his honor will at 4 p.m. Sunday at the Peter and Mary Muth Interpretive Center, 2301 University Drive, Newport Beach.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks donations be sent to the Newport Back Bay Conservancy. They also hope that books by his favorite writer, Edward Abbey, will be read in his memory.