January 10, 2023
Remembering Cathleen Williams

Cathleen Williams and Blanche Hartman, 1998

Cathleen Williams and Blanche Hartman in Japan, 1998. Photo by Cynthia Gair.

Cathleen Williams — June 22, 1941 – December 15, 2022

Cathleen on takuhatsu in Japan

Cathleen on takuhatsu (traditional monk begging round) in Japan. Photo by Cynthia Gair.

Cathleen Williams, Baizan Zenshin, Plum Mountain / Completely Genuine, was a Dharma-transmitted student of Shunbo Blanche Hartman. She was ordained at City Center on September 25, 1994. She was a resident for many years, and held a variety of positions, including Director of City Center. Cathleen visited Rinso-in, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi’s home temple in Japan, with ten other practitioners for a month-long practice period led by Blanche in the spring of 1992 and again with a similar group, including Sojun Mel Weitsman, in 1998.

Group in Japan 1998

Group at Rinso-in in 1998. Photo provided by Cynthia Gair.

Cathleen was a psychiatric social worker before coming to San Francisco Zen Center. In recent years she and her long-term partner Carol Asante moved into assisted living in San Rafael. She is survived by Carol and an adult daughter, Gwen Williams.

A Memorial Service was held at City Center on Monday January 9. A more funeral-like memorial service will be held at Vallejo Zen Center on Sunday, January 22, at 11:30 a.m. It will also be available on Zoom by entering through the temple website home page at Vallejo Zen Center. Guiding teacher Mary Mocine, a long-time dharma friend of Cathleen, is hosting the service.

Tribute from Shinshu Roberts:
Cathleen Williams was a Dharma sister and a friend. She was wise and her practice was deeply grounded in both Zen and Vipassana. She was also a prodigious reader who could whiz through a novel in a few hours. Regrettably, I had lost contact with her the last few years as both of us had moved. I am sorry to hear of her death.

Tribute from Basya Petnick:
She was such a respectful and devoted student of Blanche. She set the bar high in student-teacher relations. She looked serious but had a quick laugh and could express delight.


  1. Carol Schmitt

    Though I didn’t know her well, I remember Cathleen fondly. When I was staying for short periods of time at City Center she would always invite me into her room for a visit and make me feel welcome. She knit beautifully and encouraged my knitting. A warm presence.

  2. Alexandra Koltun

    Cathleen Williams was a close friend and mentor.

    She taught me how to bake sourdough and levain bread. Her loaves were legendary at SFZC.

    Cathleen helped liberate me from oppression.

    She was cat mommy to her neighborhood. Many times she paid vet bills for neighborhood strays.

    Cathleen had multiple home libraries — Soto Zen, psychotherapy and psychoanalysis, vintage cookbooks, English literature and science fiction.

    She gallantly lived alongside many health problems and had a zany sense of humor.


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