Dr. McDonald Williams, the first director of the Tennessee State University University Honors Program, may be gone, but officials and students at TSU say his legacy continues. Williams was 101 years young when he passed on August 11. He was the director of the 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.
“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 TSU President Glenda Glover. “Many of our outstanding alumni attribute their success to the Williams’, and especially Dr. McDonald 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 to study Honors programs nationwide and determine the feasibility of establishing one at the university. The committee recommended that TSU keep pace with many other universities throughout the country, and 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” which is 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.”
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. 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.