Eulogy for My Dad, Walter Williams

SOCIETYCOMMENTARY

Eulogy for My Dad, Walter Williams

“On the day I die, I’d like to have taught a class,” my dad told one of his best friends, Thomas Sowell. (Photo: The Heritage Foundation)

In the late 1980s, when telemarketing was at it is peak, a company called our home during dinner. I picked up the phone and handed it to my dad. This is what we heard him say:

“I’m not interested.”

“No. No, thank you.”

“Well … I’m not ever going to die.”

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And then he hung up. My mom and I looked at each other, and then him, with looks of incredulity. He explained that it was a company selling life insurance.

For a long time, I believed just that—that he was not going to die. That he would be here dropping knowledge on me, my family, and the rest of the world forever.

I have always understood my father to be a teacher, a college professor. And, at the core of it, that’s what he was: a teacher. And he loved being one.

So, why, in the days that followed my father’s death have things felt surreal?

I’ve spoken about my dad to reporters from The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. I’ve spoken to one of the greatest minds and prolific writers this country has to offer: Thomas Sowell. I’ve heard from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, real estate developer Harlan Crow, and businessman Charles Koch. I’ve read hundreds of tweets, posts, and emails from his students, politicians, educators, philanthropists, authors, and reporters.

You might intuit that hearing from all these people demonstrates that maybe Dr. Walter E. Williams wasn’t just a professor. That maybe, because of his profound effect on so many people, he was something more.

I would argue that the essence of my father was that of an educator. In fact, many years ago, my dad told Sowell, “On the day I die, I’d like to have taught a class.” Teaching was his passion. It was his gift. It was, second only to his family, his greatest love.

Some of the obituaries I have read have called my dad a giant. He was. Literally. He stood at 6 foot, 5 inches tall. My mom and I used to joke that it was always easy to find Dad in a crowd: We just needed to look up.

An athlete well into his 70s, he took advantage of his stature and long limbs and played tennis and basketball, but his favorite activity was cycling. My mom would pack him snacks the night before, and he would set out for a 30- to 50-mile ride around 5 a.m. (when she and I were still sound asleep).

I think that he enjoyed the time alone with his thoughts and his bike. Often, after a ride, he would shower and get straight to work on his syndicated column or his classwork for the week—clearheaded and ready to go.

Not only, however, was he physically a giant but he was an intellectual giant. In his lifetime, he wrote 10 books, hundreds of articles, book reviews, scholarly journal articles, and more than a thousand weekly columns. And, while proud of his accomplishments, with every book, he’d tell me, “I still don’t think I’ll catch up to Tom [Sowell] … he writes with both hands.”

He also gave hundreds of lectures around the world—Johannesburg, Cambridge, London, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and many more nationally. Additionally, you could find him on TV and radio. He called these venues his “big classroom.”

Economics is a challenging and abstract discipline that includes sophisticated analysis and calculus. But my dad had a supernatural ability to break down complex ideas and make them digestible for everyone.

As a father, he was also a teacher. My dad taught me that hard work eclipses talent or natural gifts every day of the week and twice on Sunday. He taught me how to drive like a Philadelphia cabbie and how to parallel park in a space equal to the length of my vehicle. He taught me that the best time to look for a job is when you already have one and that opportunities are often masked as disappointments.

He taught me that play is necessary, but that it’s more fun when your work is finished. He taught me to love my life and the people in it. He taught me to drink the wine and not to save it for a special occasion. And he taught me that family is always my safe place to land.

When my dad was in Philadelphia and not with us in D.C., he would call me and ask, “How’s my baby?” I would tell him, “I’m just fine, Dad,” knowing full well that he was asking about my son. They shared a special bond, and it pains me greatly to know that they only shared six years together.

We will all miss Dr. Walter Edward Williams. But I’d like to think that through his dedication to his teaching, the reach of his students, and profound effect he had on so many that, maybe, his statement to the life insurance salesman was true.

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Walter Williams: R.I.P. to a champion of freedom

Walter E. Williams wearing glasses© Provided by Washington Examiner

Conservative author and economist Walter Williams has died, ending the illustrious career of one of liberty’s fiercest yet most soft-spoken advocates.

He was 84.

Many conservatives know Williams from his years of subbing for talk radio host Rush Limbaugh. Others know Williams from his appearances on the 10-part 1980 PBS television series Free to Choose, featuring Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman.

Born in 1936, the John M. Olin distinguished professor of economics at George Mason University was known as a prolific author.

Williams “was the author of over 150 publications which have appeared in scholarly journals,” Economic Policy Journal recalls in its memoriam. His work appeared in Economic Inquiry, American Economic Review, Georgia Law Review, Journal of Labor Economics, Social Science Quarterly, and Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy and popular publications such as Newsweek, Ideas on Liberty, National Review, Reader’s Digest, Cato Journal, andPolicy Review.

The man also wrote ten books: America: A Minority Viewpoint, The State Against Blacks, All It Takes Is Guts, South Africa’s War Against Capitalism, Do the Right Thing: The People’s Economist Speaks, More Liberty Means Less Government, Liberty vs. the Tyranny of Socialism, Up From The Projects: An Autobiography, Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed On Discrimination?, and American Contempt for Liberty.

To his friends, Williams, who was born both poor and fatherless in Philadelphia and spent much of his childhood in public housing projects, was known as an uncompromising lover of liberty.

“Walter liked smoking and he also hated the TSA,” economist David Henderson recalled this week after learning of Williams’s death. “Some years ago, the combination of no-smoking [regulations] on planes and intrusive groping by the TSA caused him to vow never to fly by commercial airline again. When he received offers to give speeches that were far enough away that driving was infeasible, he negotiated for a private airplane to take him there.”

John J. Miller likewise recalls in National Review the time that Williams’s exerted his independence and fought racial prejudice after being drafted into the U.S. Army in 1959 to fight in Korea.

“Although the military had desegregated, he bristled at institutional prejudice — and demonstrated his willingness to challenge racial orthodoxy,” Miller wrote in 2011. “He complained constantly about discrimination, even writing a letter about it to his commander-in-chief, President Kennedy.”

“When he stepped off the plane for a posting in Korea,” Miller continues, “he was told to fill out a paper with personal information. In the box for his race, he claimed to be white. ‘No, you’re not,’ said a warrant officer who reviewed the form. ‘Yes, I am,’ replied Williams, who knew perfectly well that he couldn’t pass for a white guy. Williams explained his choice to the officer: ‘If I checked off ‘Negro,’ I’d get the worst job over here.”

Williams’s first assignment ended up being a relatively easy one, far away from the front lines.

But as he was known for his sharp mind, he was also known for his keen wit, his dry sense of humor, and his kindness.

Personally, however, Williams will be remembered best as the soft-spoken conservative economist who frequently clowned on his late wife, Connie, who died in 2007.

As Marymount University economics professor Brian Hollar recalled after her death, “Professor Williams used to make a lot of jokes in class about making his wife shovel snow, how much he spoiled her, used her bad behavior for illustrating downward-sloping demand curves, etc. You could always tell through his teasing that he loved her deeply.”

Indeed, the Connie anecdotes were indicative not only of Williams’s dry sense of humor, and they acted not only as excellent examples to explain complex economic theories, but they displayed well his humanity. The stories always revealed his clear and deep love for his wife of 47 years.

He will be missed. Rest in peace, Walter Williams

 

 

 

 

 

 


Dr. Walter Williams Highlights from – Testing Milton Friedman

Milton Friedman PBS Free to Choose 1980 Vol 8 of 10 Who Protects the Worker

Walter E Williams – A Discussion About Fairness & Redistribution

Testing Milton Friedman: Equality of Opportunity – Full Video

Walter Williams, Freedom Fighter

I’ve been fortunate to know Walter Williams ever since I began my Ph.D. studies at George Mason University in the mid-1980s. He is a very good economist, but his real value is as a public intellectual.

He also has a remarkable personal story, which he tells in his new autobiography,Up from the Projects. I’ve read the book and urge you to do the same. It’s very interesting and, like his columns, crisply written.

To get a flavor for Walter’s strong principles and blunt opinions, watch this video from Reason TV. I won’t spoil things, but the last couple of minutes are quite sobering.

Walter Williams: Up From the Projects

I suppose a personal story might be appropriate at this point. My ex also was at George Mason University, and she was Walter’s research assistant. Walter would give multiple-choice tests to students taking his entry-level classes and she was responsible for grading them by sending them through a machine that would “click” for every wrong answer. For almost every student, it sounded like a machine gun was going off. Suffice to say, Walter’s classes were not easy.

So while I’m glad to say he’s my friend, I’m also happy I never took one of his classes.

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