As a high-ranking university administrator, the late Julie E. Williams ’79 continually sought to promote diversity and create opportunities for underrepresented students and faculty. That was reflected in how she and her best friend, fellow William & Mary alumna Birdie Hairston Jamison ’79, J.D. ’82, typically ended their conversations.   

“We would always say ‘blessed to be a blessing,’” Jamison said. “Julie felt like she had been highly blessed, and she wanted use her platform to be a blessing to others.”

Williams’ commitment to paying it forward led her to establish an endowment through her estate at her alma mater. Named for her parents as well as herself, The Stuart Calvin, Frances Gloria and Julie E. Williams Fund for Diversity Programming is the first planned gift supporting diversity efforts at William & Mary and among the first planned gifts from a Black alumna or alumnus. The endowment allows W&M Chief Diversity Officer Chon Glover M.Ed. ’99, Ed.D. ’06 discretion to decide how to use the funds.

As senior vice provost for engagement and faculty development at the University of New Hampshire, Williams initiated a partnership with Howard University, a historically Black institution, to encourage faculty from both universities to collaborate and learn from each other. She also formed programs at UNH to help professors enhance their research and teaching.

Williams, who passed away in 2019, reconnected with William & Mary in 2005, through a fellowship with the American Council on Education (ACE). As part of her fellowship, she led an effort to connect ACE fellows with three South African universities. At her alma mater, she was drawn to the William & Mary Scholars Undergraduate Research Experience (WMSURE), which provides scholarships for students from underrepresented backgrounds and opportunities for any student to gain research experience with faculty across departments.

“Julie visited the students in the program several times while she was doing her fellowship and she fell in love with what the program is all about,” Glover said, adding that Williams hoped WMSURE would encourage some of the students to become professors themselves.

Williams was pleased to discover how William & Mary’s commitment to diversity had led to increased numbers of underrepresented students and professors, Glover said. Since 1996, when Glover arrived at the university, the percentage of nonwhite students from within the United States has increased from 17% to 33%, she said. During the past 10 years, the number of students of color has increased from 2,002 to 2,790, while the number of nonwhite faculty rose from 76 to 119. 

“That didn’t just happen,” Glover said. “We continue to work diligently at increasing the diversity of our community for all faculty, staff and students to have opportunities to grow and learn from one another and this makes for an inclusive environment. Julie would always say to me, ‘Whatever you’re doing keep doing it, because this institution needs it, and we need your energy and your creativity to keep it moving forward.’”

Williams had a chance to interact with three William & Mary presidents — Gene Nichol, W. Taylor Reveley III LL.D. ’18 and Katherine Rowe — and would encourage them to continue the momentum.

“She always made it well known that she was happy to be an alumna of William & Mary and very supportive of our efforts, and we still had more  work to do,” Glover said. “I was completely overwhelmed and filled with gratitude that Julie would do this. I admired her so much that I want to ensure that we are intentional and purposeful in how we use this money, and that its use will highlight Julie’s steadfast leadership and her service.”

Two people pose for a photo under a tree with pink flowers
Julie Williams (left) and Birdie Hairston Jamison are shown  in 1982, after Jamison’s graduation from W&M Law School. (Photo courtesy of Birdie Hairston Jamison)

When Williams and Jamison attended William & Mary, they were among just a handful of Black students living on campus. They met on the first day of orientation and struck up a close friendship that lasted until Williams’ death on Sept. 25, 2019.

While they both valued the education they received at William & Mary, they also came away with difficult memories, such as returning to their residence hall during their freshman year to find a huge Confederate flag hanging down the front of the building — part of a tradition in which fraternity members invited women to attend a ball.

Williams shared some of her experiences with the students attending William & Mary decades after she graduated and offered them her perspective on the progress that has been made, Glover said. “She’d say, ‘You’re fortunate to have peers and faculty who look like you.’”

After graduating from W&M, Williams received a doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Tennessee and held faculty and administrative positions at the University of Tennessee, Virginia Commonwealth University and Knoxville College in addition to the University of New Hampshire. Jamison, a retired judge in the Richmond, Virginia, General District Court, serves as the trustee for Williams’ estate.

Jamison describes her friend as a smart, warm, generous and spiritual person who was devoted to her family and the churches she belonged to in Caroline County, where she grew up, and in the Richmond area.

The two often talked about Williams’ hopes for her legacy gift, Jamison said. Among the ideas they discussed were mentorship programs, as well as seminars that would bring leaders in various fields to campus. 

“She wanted to encourage students to seek out mentors — someone who shares the same values, who is interested in them and wants to see them become successful,” Jamison said.

“Both of us always felt that it’s the opportunities and exposure that help young people to do their best. When you see someone else doing something that sparks your interest, that serves as inspiration.”