NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – A chance meeting at Wilberforce University in 1942 has led to a lifetime of memories and successes for Drs. McDonald and Jamye Williams, who spent nearly three decades at the university and who have also been married for more than 70 years.
The couple will share yet another memory during Tennessee State University’s Homecoming as the two are saluted as the 2014 Honorees for their outstanding contributions to the university. Both long-time educators as well as NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Claude Humphrey will be honored Friday, Sept. 26 during an “Evening of Honors.”
Both made TSU the final stop on their professional journey. Dr. McDonald Williams spent 30 years at the university serving as director of the Honors Program and as a professor of English before retiring in 1988. His wife, Jamye, retired just a year earlier ending her tenure as head of the Department of Communications, a position she held for 14 years.
The Williams’ have made advancing education and student success a priority in their careers. The many years spent at Tennessee State University afforded them an opportunity to see some of the university’s most talented students graduate and excel. Dr. Jamye Williams’ brings interesting perspective on how they positively shaped the lives of TSU students – particularly one of her most famous students, Oprah Winfrey.
“Her father wanted her to have a good education and a successful career,” Williams said. “He knew that having that [college] degree would continue to open doors for her.”
Dr. Jamye said Winfrey’s father encouraged her to call Oprah to convince her to finish what she started. So, in 1987, she made contact with Winfrey who, by this time, had established herself as a national talk show host.
“She sent me a check to pay for the three course hours and completed a documentary for her senior class project,” Dr. Jamye said. “That same year, she was the Commencement speaker, and I remember her holding up her degree and saying ‘see Daddy, I amount to something.’”
Since retiring, the Williams, who now reside in Atlanta, still make time to come back to TSU. They returned in 2012 for the university’s Centennial Celebration, in 2013 for the inauguration of President Glenda Glover, and in March 2014 for the Honors Program’s 50th anniversary celebration, in which Dr. McDonald Williams was honored for his years of dedication to the growth of the program.
In 1963, then-Tennessee State University President, Dr. Walter S. Davis, appointed a committee charged with studying Honors Programs and the feasibility of establishing one at the University. After completing its investigation, this committee recommended that Tennessee State University keep pace with many other universities throughout the country. As a result, an Honors program for freshman students was established in Fall 1964 followed by sophomore through senior level course work in 1968 marking the first year for students to be recognized for graduating with “University Honors.”
“This really is a time to celebrate the program and the most instrumental person behind it,” said Dr. Coreen Jackson, current director of the Honor Program. “Dr. Williams, while not the original founder, laid the cornerstone of academic excellence and the standard of which this program was built upon.”
The program, said Jackson, has gone through many changes throughout the years, which includes growing to more than 400 students enrolled in the program, 145 of which are first-time freshmen, and transitioning to a possible college in the near future. But the foundation built by Williams still holds true today, she said.
“He had a vision for where the program needed to go and subsequent directors including Jane Elliott and Sandra Holt have carried that vision forward,” said Jackson. “We really are in his debt.”
Because of his contributions to the success of the Honors Program, the Tennessee Board of Regents granted the university approval to name the Honors Program after Dr. Williams in 1988. The University Honors Center was named the McDonald Williams Honors Center.
Ironically, while the event was designed to honor Dr. McDonald’s work, the couple again showed selfless gratitude becoming the first major contributor donating $10,000 toward an Honors College initiative.
“I wish we could have given more,” Dr. McDonald said, adding that by establishing an Honors College it will raise the level of the program. “When the program first began, it was in a single room in the Agriculture building before it moved to the first floor of the old library (now the Student Success Center) in the back on the ground floor.”
The 46 years the Williams’ spent in Nashville, they played an active role in the life of the university and in the community. The myriad of professional and civic affiliations, honors and publications they have amassed are too numerous to mention. They were active in the NAACP with Dr. Jamye serving as Life Membership Committee Chairman for 20 years and Dr. McDonald serving the civil rights organization as vice president. Currently, they are members of Big Bethel AME Church in Atlanta, Georgia. She is a life member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and he is a life member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
In addition to their support of TSU, the Williams provide scholarship support to other universities, including Payne Theological Seminary, Wilberforce University and through the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.
“I would recommend anyone who wants to go to college to consider Tennessee State University with no hesitation at all,” Dr. McDonald said. “So many students there have done well over the years.”
Call 615.963.5481 or visit www.tnstate.edu/scholarshipgala for more information on the 2014 Scholarship Gala. The gala takes place Friday, Sept. 26 at Music City Center and tickets are available now to purchase.
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With nearly 9,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a comprehensive, urban, co-educational, land-grant university offering 42 undergraduate, 24 graduate and seven doctoral programs. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as one of the top universities in the country by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University celebrated 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.