Deemed a foe to some and a friend to many, former police chief and longtime Trenton resident Ernest A. Williams passed away last Wednesday after a lengthy illness. He was 77.

Williams was widely regarded as one of the most influential and powerful people in the Garden State capital. Outspoken and quick to speak his mind, Williams is the only person to have served as the city’s public safety director, police chief and police director. Some credit Williams with guiding the city of Trenton through some of its darkest and most challenging moments.

“I worked with and knew him for roughly 40 years,” said Trenton City Councilman George Muschal, who is also a former cop. A joint media release from the City Council said, in part, “Ernie was a man with honesty and integrity, someone you could trust.”

Mayor Tony Mack ordered flags throughout the city to be flown at half-staff in honor of Williams.

Former longtime Trenton Mayor Douglas Palmer said Williams would forever be remembered as a pioneer. It was Palmer who named him public safety director in 1990 and promoted him to police chief in 1992. “We worked together on a lot of things, and we dealt [with] some difficult and turbulent times in the city,” Palmer said. “I’ve always respected and admired Ernie Williams.”

Williams was raised in a segregated Trenton. He often shared sobering stories of being treated poorly by white Trentonians and denied access to certain establishments.

In March, Williams was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Trenton Black Image Awards. During his keynote speech, Williams said, “The city and people of Trenton have given so much to me over the years, and you will always be a part of me.”

Williams was laid to rest at Greenwood Cemetery in Hamilton, N.J.