Fair housing movement loses two great advocates in Ronald Ray Smith and Terry M. Williams

Ronald Ray Smith, the colorful and sometimes cantankerous “Enforcer” of civil rights for people with disabilities in Nevada, died on July 16 at his Las Vegas home. He was 55.

Smith was the technical adviser for the Nevada chapter of the Disabled Rights Action Committee (“DRAC”), a Utah-based non-profit organization whose mission includes enforcement of the  Americans with Disabilities Act and the accessibility provisions of the Fair Housing Amendments Act.

Smith, who had used a wheelchair since a childhood bout with polio, moved to Las Vegas in late 1992 with the stated goal of fighting casinos and developers of housing who were cranking out new buildings rapidly with little or no regard for the requirements of federal accessibility laws.

Smith recruited attorneys to help DRAC file lawsuits against casinos and developers of apartment and condominium complexes.

Several complaints led to settlements that included physical improvements for greater wheelchair accessibility. In May 1998, a Las Vegas developer settled a housing discrimination case brought against it by setting aside $20,000 to remodel inaccessible apartments and paying DRAC $17,500. In late 1999, DRAC convinced a judge to order Harrah’s Casino in Reno to stop operating its  shuttle buses until they could be made accessible to riders in wheelchairs and scooters. The suit settled in DRAC’s favor a few months later. In late 2001, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals told Coast Resorts, in a DRAC lawsuit, to renovate 800 hotel rooms whose bathroom doors were too
narrow for wheelchairs and to fix two slot machine kiosks.

“He accomplished much — casinos, buses, restaurants, and multifamily housing developments were made accessible” through his efforts, said Richard Armknecht, a friend of Smith and one of the attorneys who often represented DRAC in its lawsuits.

“Ronald said that his goal was to ‘bring Las Vegas into the 21st Century’ before he died,” Armknecht said. “He did not reach his goal, but he blazed a path for others to follow.”

Terry M. Williams, an attorney that handled many of the high profile cases for the Fair Housing Center of Metropolitan Detroit, died of complications from cancer on December 23, 2002. She was 47 years old.

Williams was a Detroit native. She received a bachelor’s degree from the University of  Pennsylvania and attended law school at Wayne State University. She worked with the Legal Aid and Defenders Association in 1985 and 1986. Williams joined the law firm of Bell and Gardner in 1987.

In 1988, she entered private practice and focused on criminal defense and civil rights cases in the areas of employment and housing. She became a cooperating attorney with FHC-Detroit in the mid-1990s.

Williams was affectionately called “The Swan” by her friends and colleagues, because of her graceful, erect, swan-like posture and her beauty. She will be remembered for her fierce independence and “I’ll do it my way” attitude.

Cliff Schrupp, executive director of FHC-Detroit, called Williams’ death “a painful loss” for her family, friends, colleagues, and supporters of fair housing.