Former Professor Ed Williams Dies

Ed Williams inline image

Retired University of Redlands professor Ed Williams dies

Professor was early leader of innovative Johnston Center, legacy remains in place

REDLANDS, Jan. 9, 2014—Ed Williams, former professor and academic leader of the Johnston Center for Integrative Studies at the University of Redlands, died on January 3, 2014 at his home in Redlands after an extended battle with cancer. A memorial service was held at 3 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 7, at the Community Presbyterian Church in Redlands.

Professor Williams was an important figure in the history of the University who, despite his illness, stayed connected to the University community to the end of his life. As recently as Dec. 9, he attended the annual Faculty holiday tea event at the Alumni House on campus. The following day, Dr. Williams attended the employee holiday luncheon where he was honored as an emeritus faculty member by President Ralph Kuncl.

On Dec. 17, Dr. Williams cheerfully greeted 20 University choristers who dropped by his home to regale him with Christmas carols.

“Dr. Williams had a significant impact at the University through his creative leadership of the Johnston and Whitehead Centers and his zest for teaching,” Dr. Ralph Kuncl, president of the University of Redlands, said. “Known for his ‘spirit of zaniness,’ it is clear that Ed was one of those people who had a remarkable gift for bringing people together and fostering a sense of real community. He was widely admired and respected, and he will be sorely missed and long remembered.”

Williams, 94, grew up in Wyoming and studied literature and philosophy at universities in New York, Indiana and his home state before and after serving in World War II. His teaching career began at De Pauw University in Indiana, where he spent 12 years as an English instructor before becoming a dean at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri.

Bill Huntley, Jr., professor of religion, says Williams was his dean at Westminster, and became his mentor and lifelong friend when they built their respective lives in Redlands as faculty colleagues at the University of Redlands. Williams arrived in 1969, becoming the chancellor of the newly established Johnston College, with Huntley joining the religion department some five years later.

“In speaking of Ed Williams and our 40-plus years of affiliation, I must share my personal sense of loss for what has been the longest and deepest friendship I have had in this life, outside my immediate family,” Dr. Huntley said. “We bought a boat together, worshipped together at the same church, shared countless meals, meetings, and adventures, and, I learned recently, I even became a character in Ed’s books through his rich and never faltering imagination."

“Ed’s penchant for fun and a certain irreverence were hallmarks of his personality. The school’s tradition of decorating faculty offices with zany and humorous personal items is a practice credited to Williams.”

A Fellow in English, Williams’ interest in poetry persisted throughout his life, Huntley said. Dr. Williams had an uncanny ability to quote entire poems, and was particularly fond of the work of 18th Century poets. In characteristic fashion, while waiting in urgent care, Williams recently created a parody of Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” Using the poet’s rhyming preferences, Williams’ clever rendition offered a profound and humorous perspective on his deteriorating health.

During his leadership of the Johnston Center—then known as the Johnston College—Williams inspired the creation of the Johnston contract system, where students enrolled in the living-learning community contract for individual courses of study they will follow, and in effect design their own graduation plans. In the early 1970s, such an experiment in education was avant garde, and also included the new idea that students would receive narrative evaluations in lieu of grades. The process is still viable, remaining a tribute to different styles of learning and keeping Johnston among the top three most popular academic programs at the University today.

Retired faculty member Yash Owada, founding faculty at Johnston, knew Williams well and worked with him during their time at Redlands. He echoed President Kuncl’s sentiment about Williams’ strength in transcending immediate problems.

“Ed had one of the rarest qualities in people, an ability to operate above the immediate level of our concerns, reconciling small differences in our views to create collaboration and agreement,” Dr. Owada said.

Williams also served as an administrator/professor for the Whitehead Center Graduate Program, advising graduates and teaching courses in the program’s early days as one of the few master’s programs in management for adults in the workforce at that time.

“Ed loved words and sentences. He took writing seriously. Regardless of the student’s program or stage of education, he worked with students in his role as a teacher of composition, inculcating the value of craftsmanship in writing,” Owada said. “Words are life sustaining, and without passion there is no poetry in life anymore. Ed was able to convey that passion to students.” Owada added that Williams also had zeal for piano tuning which was further evidence of his devotion to craft and attention to detail, traits that were admired and appreciated by those who knew him.

Self-described as a three-time college dropout, Williams completed his advanced academic degrees with the help of the GI Bill and student grants following his wartime service. He later became a member of the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa honor society, and in 1975 was named to the senior commission of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, the accrediting organization for institutions in the Pacific region. Williams also served as the faculty advisor to Omicron Delta Kappa, a national service & leadership organization.

Ed Williams was born in Denver and was a resident of the Redlands community for 46 years. His wife, Phyllis, a longtime active school board member and volunteer in Redlands, died in 2005. Williams is survived by his children Sue Scoggan, Lucy Chamberlain, Richard Williams, and Alice Root, eight grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

Media Contact:
Karen Bergh

Quiet the Mind
meditation room

The University’s Meditation Room opened in 2007 and is one of the first “contemplative classroom” spaces in the country.

Read More »