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Born in Wellington, New Zealand, Williams graduated with a Bachelor of Science from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand in 1945 and a Bachelor of Arts from the same institution in 1947. He studied medicine at the Otago Medical School in Dunedin and graduated in 1953.
From 1954 to 1955 he worked as house surgeon at the Auckland Hospital, and after a period at the Thames Hospital, he worked from 1956 to 1962 at the Auckland Hospital and Greenlane Hospital. It was during this period, while working as registrar that in 1961 he published his paper on the syndrome that was to bear his name. He had noted a grouping of young patients who were short in stature, had elfin facial features, had cardiac problems, were very friendly and had cognitive deficits. He was appointed a consultant in cardiology at Greenlane Hospital in 1963.
Williams had a reputation for being erratic and eccentric, and his life has been subject to various claims and conspiracy theories. Despite suggestions that Williams had disappeared while on his way to take up a position at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, from October 1962 to September 1965 he worked there as postdoctoral fellow in the cardiovascular physiology laboratory with the physiologist Earl Wood. His colleagues there later described him a private person with some odd behaviours. None recalled his mentioning Williams syndrome and he did not continue research in the area. After the end of his fellowship, Williams worked as a consultant with Wood until September 1966. He continued to be associated with the Mayo Clinic after he moved to the United Kingdom where he worked with the physiologist Andrew Huxley at University College, London from October 1966 to October 1968.
Williams was a man of many interests, including music and literature. In 1967 and while in London, he met the New Zealander poet Janet Frame, who was a friend of a friend. Shortly afterwards Frame became ill with viral meningitis, and after a hospitalisation, she accepted an invitation to stay with Williams as she convalesced. They developed some intimacy and she later wrote that she "enjoyed his company immensely, and admired him greatly...[He] gets top marks from me for "livability-with". On a subsequent visit to the United Kingdom in 1969, Frame stayed with Williams again, using his flat as a base in London. During her visit, Williams proposed to Frame, asking, "Why don't we formalize our relationship?" Frame fled, not expecting or wanting marriage. When she returned to London about a week later, Williams had disappeared, and little is known of his later movements.
Friends and colleagues met Williams in Europe, with the last meetings occurring in the mid 1970s in Salzburg, Austria. In 1972, he accepted and then later declined a post at the Latter Day Saints Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah, United States. Williams renewed his passport in Geneva in September 1979. At the behest of his sister, Interpol tried and failed to find him and in 1988 Williams was declared "a missing person presumed to be dead from 1978" by the High Court of New Zealand. However, author Michael King reports that Williams contacted him indirectly in January 2000, asking that he not be "discussed" in King's biography of Janet Frame.
- Lenhoff, Howard M.; Teele, Rita L.; Clarkson, Patricia M.; Berdon, Walter E. (2010). "John C. P. Williams of Williams-Beuren syndrome". Pediatric Radiology. 41 (2): 267–269. doi:10.1007/s00247-010-1909-y. ISSN 0301-0449. PMID 21107555.
- "Graduates, 1945". The Spike or Victoria University College Review 1945: 68. 1945. Retrieved 23 January 2013.
- "Graduates, 1947". The Spike or Victoria University College Review 1947: 36. 1947. Retrieved 23 January 2013.
- The Gregarious Brain, New York Times, July 8, 2007
- Michael King (1 April 2002). Wrestling With the Angel: A Life of Janet Frame. Counterpoint Press. pp. 323–25. ISBN 978-1-58243-185-7.
- Michael King (1 April 2002). Wrestling With the Angel: A Life of Janet Frame. Counterpoint Press. pp. 340–41. ISBN 978-1-58243-185-7.
- Michael King (1 April 2002). Wrestling With the Angel: A Life of Janet Frame. Counterpoint Press. p. 553. ISBN 978-1-58243-185-7.
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