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Dr. McDonald Williams, first director of the University Honors Program, remembered

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Dr. McDonald Williams, the first director of the University Honors Program, may be gone. But Tennessee State University officials and students say his legacy continues.  

Williams, who was 101 when he passed on Aug. 11, was director of the then-Honors Program at TSU for 23 years before retiring in 1988. He also spent 30 years at the university serving as a professor of English.

Dr. McDonald Williams

“The TSU family is saddened at the passing of Dr. McDonald Williams, and our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Dr. Jamye Williams and the rest of the family,” said Tennessee State University President Glenda Glover. “Many of our outstanding alumni attribute their success to the Williams’, and especially Dr. Williams as the director of the University Honors Program for 23 years. His contributions to TSU will never be forgotten, and his legacy will always resonate throughout our institution.”

Barbara Murrell, retired vice president of Student Affairs at TSU, agreed.

“He was one of the most respected, admired and appreciated members of the Tennessee State University family and the Nashville community,” she said. “His legacy as an academician continues to inspire generations through the TSU Honors College.”

In 1963, Dr. Walter S. Davis, who was president of Tennessee State at the time, appointed a committee that was charged with studying Honors programs and determining the feasibility of establishing one at the university.

After completing its investigation, the committee recommended that TSU keep pace with many other universities throughout the country. As a result, an Honors program for freshman students was started in the fall of 1964. Sophomore through senior level course work was added yearly throughout 1968, which was the first year a student graduated with “University Honors;” a distinction now reserved for those students who successfully complete the requirements of the University Honors College, which was officially given its collegiate designation in 2016.

Dr. Coreen Jackson, interim dean of the Honors College, said Williams “laid the cornerstone of academic excellence and the standard for which this program was built upon.”

“He had a vision for where the program needed to go and subsequent directors have carried that vision forward,” Jackson said.

TSU President Glenda Glover (center) with Dr. McDonald Williams, and his wife, Dr. Jamye Coleman Williams. (Submitted photo)

At an Honors Convocation in March of this year, about 2,340 TSU students with grade point averages of 3.0 or higher were recognized. Of that number, 283 were on the President’s List. Those students maintained a 4.0 GPA throughout their matriculation.

Orica Kutten is currently in the Honors College and is the recipient of a scholarship named after Williams. She said she’s grateful for the scholarship, and all that Williams did to help make the College what it is today.

“He should be celebrated for all the good he has done,” said Kutten, a senior biology major who lives in Nashville.

Honors student Jerry Kibet of Kenya said Williams laid a foundation that allows “students to realize their potential.”

“His legacy has impacted me to be a better person,” said Kibet, who is majoring in aeronautical and industrial technology. “When other students see me, and the way I carry myself, they want to be a part of this, the Honors College.”

Williams and his wife, Dr. Jamye Coleman Williams, who spent 14 years as the head of TSU’s Department of Communication, were honored at the Scholarship Gala during Homecoming in 2014.

In tandem, the Williams’ co-edited the 1970 publication, The Negro Speaks: The Rhetoric of Contemporary Black Leaders. They have also been co-recipients of numerous accolades and awards, including the 2002 Joe Kraft Humanitarian Award by the Community Foundation.

Funeral services for Dr. Williams will be in Atlanta and Nashville.

A public viewing and visitation with the family will be on Thursday, Aug. 15, from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Murray Brothers Funeral Home, 1199 Utoy Springs Rd., SW, in Atlanta. The funeral will be held on Friday, Aug. 16, at 11 a.m. at Big Bethel AME Church, 220 Auburn Ave., NE, in Atlanta.

In Nashville, a public viewing will be held on Sunday, Aug. 18, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Lewis & Wright Funeral Directors, 2500 Clarksville Pike. The interment will be on Monday, Aug. 19, at 11 a.m. at Historic Greenwood Cemetery, 1428 Elm Hill Pike.

To learn more about the University Honors College, visit http://www.tnstate.edu/honors/about/.

Department of Media Relations

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About Tennessee State University

Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a  premier, historically black university and land-grant institution offering 38 bachelor’s degree programs, 24 master’s degree programs, and seven doctoral degrees.  TSU is a comprehensive research intensive institution with a R-2 Carnegie designation, and has a graduate school on its downtown Avon Williams Campus, along with the Otis Floyd Nursery Research Center in McMinnville, Tennessee.  With a commitment to excellence, Tennessee State University provides students  with a quality education in a nurturing and innovative environment that prepares them as alumni to be global leaders in every facet of society. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.