Former Michigan Gov. G. Mennen ("Soapy") Williams has always been a booster of Detroit's disintegrating inner city. But it won him no mercy from a trio of young toughs who mugged him recently in an integrated, middle-income neighborhood on the edge of downtown.

Williams, 65, now justice of the state supreme court, was en route to the apartment of Barbara Patterson, 36, his vacationing administrative assistant. His mission: to water her plants. Outside her condominium the 6'3" Williams was knocked down and then dragged inside. His assailants tied and gagged him and took his watch and $170. "I didn't know whether they were armed," he said. Wisely, he did not resist.

Williams wriggled loose and summoned help. He needed seven stitches, most of them in his lower lip, and was then driven home to the plush suburb of Grosse Point Farms, far from the mugging crowd. Would he urge Miss Patterson, a striking redhead, to give up her digs?

"No, I'm proud of her. She says that she will stay in her home," said Williams. "She will, however, take more security precautions."

Williams added that he would not be afraid to walk the Detroit streets again. "I'm more interested than ever to help our cities emerge from this climate of fear," he vowed.