In 1995, Jane Williams got a wake-up call from her seven-year-old daughter. “I’d really like to have my own alarm clock,” Allison requested, explaining that with her parents both frequently traveling, she was never sure if Mom, Dad or a nanny would be there to rouse her in the morning. So Williams, then working as a communications consultant with the London-based beauty brand Boots, decided to slow down, take some nonprofit work and spend more time at home with Allison and her brother, Douglas, then four.
These days, with her kids grown, Williams hosts Bloomberg EDU, a national weekly show on Bloomberg Radio. It would seem a natural fit, since she comes from a long line of public-education advocates: Her mother was a teacher, her father and maternal grandmother ran school boards, and her paternal grandfather was a school superintendent. Williams herself serves on the board of the nonprofit Horizons, which provides summer enrichment programs to low-income students. “I think education is the most important and under-covered story of our time,” she says. “I’m an education geek.”
This year she won the Alliance for Women in Media Foundation’s Gracie Award for Outstanding Interview. A fellow Gracie winner was Lena Dunham, creator of Girls, the hit HBO series that also stars Allison as Marnie Michaels. (Williams says she and Brian watch the show together, and neither flinches at their daughter’s vivid sex scenes, including the one in which she masturbates in a public restroom: “We know the difference between Allison’s real life and what happens onscreen,” she says.)
Williams, who studied political science and Russian at Duke University, once imagined a career in the foreign service. But during an internship in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research while the Iran hostage crisis raged, she fell in love with the press room. A few years later, she fell in love again, this time with then local TV reporter Brian, whom she first encountered in the control room when she was producing Panorama, a daily Washington, D.C., news show. “Brian likes to say that I was in his ear when we met,” she says. They wed in 1986.
She may no longer be considering a career as a Soviet envoy, but Williams is brushing up on her Russian: In February she’ll accompany Brian to Sochi for the Winter Olympics. “So far,” she says of her retooled language skills, “I’ll be able to get our gang ice cream, a cup of tea and a glass of vodka.”
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