Mardo Williams' story is right out of the pages of Horatio Alger whose books he read as a young boy. Alger's heroes valiantly overcome poverty and adversity and this seems to be exactly what he did. He grew up on a 100-acre subsistence farm; serendipitously--after he lost his job at the Kenton, Ohio car shops because of the Depression--he answered an ad and became the only reporter at the Kenton News-Republican, a small Ohio daily. (He'd always had an inclination to write.) He had no college degree but while he'd been cleaning out the insides of the smokestacks of the locomotives up in Toledo, he'd taken two courses at the business school there, shorthand and typing, and so he was prepared to be a reporter. He did all the beats, hoofed it around the small town of Kenton digging up stories on slow news days.
Nineteen years later, after World War II ended, the Columbus Dispatch recruited him to the copy desk. He moved up the ranks from the copy desk to travel editor . . . and in 1954 he was asked to develop and write stories about the world of business. Columbus was booming at this time. Mardo, familiar with pounding the pavement to search out stories, did just that. Within the year, he was writing a daily business column with byline.
After he retired from the Dispatch in 1970, he freelanced for several years, editing a newsletter and doing publicity. He began his second career, writing books, at age 88, after his wife died after a long illness. At his daughters' urging, he learned to use a computer and began writing his first book, Maude. It was about his mother, who lived to be 110, and also about life at the turn of the century when everything was done arduously by hand. This was to be for family, but his daughter Kay read a few sections to her writers group. They loved it, and wanted more.
The manuscript grew from 50 pages to a 334 page book with a 32 page picture insert. The finished product was published in 1996, Maude (1883--1993): She Grew Up with the Country. It has been adopted by some college American history classes as a supplemental text "to put a human face on history."
Then Mardo wrote an illustrated children's book, Great-Grandpa Fussy and the Little Puckerdoodles, based on the escapades of four of his great-grandchildren. He decided at age 92 that he would try something completely different--a novel, One Last Dance. His magnum opus.
He spent three years writing the first draft while touring with his first book, Maude. He persevered through illness and blindness, determined to finish it before he died. It was the most challenging piece of writing in his 73-year writing career--a long work of fiction when he'd been writing short non-fiction pieces for most of his life. After his death, his daughters Kay and Jerri spent another three years editing and revising One Last Dance, and after it was published, four more years touring with it as the centerpiece of their program, Keep Dancing!
One Last Dance fills a niche, especially now that the baby boomers have turned 65. The novel gives readers hope and laughs. Book discussion groups throughout the country have read it and loved it. Many readers have said, "Well, if Mardo could do this (embark on a new romance, write a book) in his nineties, I can certainly give it a try myself; I'm only 70 or 80 . . ."
Many honors came to Mardo and to his writing after his death. In 2006 One Last Dance won the Independent Publishers Award for Best Regional Fiction. The book was also one of five Finalists in the National Readers' Choice Awards for 2005. Before that, Mardo won an Ohioana Citation--their first posthumous--for his body of work as a journalist and author (for, at that time, Maude and Great-Grandpa Fussy).
His daughters, Kay and Jerri, won a 2009 Ohioana Citation for "unique and outstanding accomplishment in the field of writing and editing" for finishing One Last Dance.