July 16, 2014

Educator Diana Cartaya Williams brought passion for animals into Miami-Dade classrooms

Diana Cartaya Williams believed in dispelling myths.

Diana Cartaya Williams believed in dispelling myths.

As an elementary school teacher, administrator and assistant principal in a 20-year career through Miami-Dade Public Schools, Cartaya Williams, who died Sunday at 71, turned her passion for animals into an educational tool.

Before her retirement in 2002, she arranged for the Goulds-based Little Farm agricultural family-events company to bring pigs to James H. Bright and J.W. Johnson Elementary School in Hialeah.

As assistant principal, Cartaya Williams wanted her students to interact with the animals and to learn that pigs are not dirty or dumb as commonly perceived.

“She loved pigs and always held the little baby pigs so the students could touch and learn to see for themselves,” said her daughter, Marie Williams Barnes. “Some had never seen animals like that before.”

She would say to her students, many from low-income or single-parent homes: “Not everything is as you hear.”

Cartaya Williams had also incorporated animals into the classroom at several of the other schools she worked at, including Campbell Drive Elementary in Homestead, Ben Sheppard Annex Elementary and Ernest R. Graham Elementary in Hialeah.

“She taught kids to love animals and respect animals,” Williams Barnes said.

Cartaya Williams was born in Havana to Hugo V. Cartaya, a dentist, and Rosaura Biada Cartaya, an opera singer and pianist. Her mother’s arts background led to a life-long love of Broadway, Impressionist paintings, ballet and the Beatles. Dad, with a mix of traditional and progressive, influenced her to go into teaching.

“My mom and grandfather were instrumental in my life. Having a moral compass, I got that from her,” said Williams Barnes, an organization development consultant with Baptist Health South Florida.

Cartaya Williams earned her high school diploma at Ursulines High in Havana in 1960 and arrived in Miami a year later. She earned her bachelor’s degree in education with an art history minor from the University of Miami in 1966. In 1968, she landed her first teaching job at Charleston High School in West Virginia, where she taught Spanish for two years before taking time off to raise her daughter.

Cartaya Williams eventually returned to Miami and the classroom, first in 1983 at Flagami Elementary and then Auburndale Elementary. Administrative and leadership positions followed.

Her daughter, however, proved to be her favorite student. Both bonded as only children.

“I was her universe,” Williams Barnes said. “That was her purpose and will to keep it together.”

Cartaya Williams was chronically ill for a long time and entered hospice last September. As caregiver, Williams Barnes hoped to get through one more Thanksgiving with her mom. Then Christmas. On July 11, she celebrated her birthday with her mom. On July 13, mom passed.

“She was hanging on for my birthday. I am convinced she wanted one more with me so she could let go.”

Cartaya Williams is survived by her daughter and son-in-law Jeff Barnes.

A viewing will be held at 4 p.m.-10 p.m. Thursday at Maspons Funeral Home, 7895 SW 40th St., Miami. Funeral Mass is at 11 a.m. Friday at St. Kevin Catholic Church, 12525 SW 42nd St., Miami. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donation to the Humane Society of Greater Miami.

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