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June 2008
Vol 87: No. 3
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Family Ties

Five brothers. Eleven UGA degrees among them. And no one familiar with the Williams family is surprised, given the guidance and inspiration these young men received from their parents.

Josh Darnell (ABJ ’04)

The drive from Thomasville to - Athens takes nearly five hours and the scenery is mainly rural. But as an assistant football coach at Thomasville High, ferrying football recruits was part of Morris Williams Jr.’s job. So in 1979 Williams loaded his sons—all five of them—into the car along with Thomasville star Guy McIntyre and headed north to UGA.

The trip paid big dividends for -McIntyre, an offensive lineman who was an offensive captain for the Dogs before moving on to a successful career in the NFL. Though few were aware of it at the time, five other college careers were launched that day as well.

“We fell in love with the campus,” recalls Brian Williams (AB ’88, MPA ’91, DPA ’95), Morris’ second-oldest son, who was 12 years old when he and his brothers accompanied their father on that fateful trip to Athens.

It was the weekend of the Georgia Tech game, which featured a tailback showdown between Tech’s Eddie Lee Ivery and Georgia’s Willie McClendon. Caught up in the spirit, Morris Jr. -relaxed his prohibition on extraneous spending and bought a “This Is Bulldog Country” rug at the bookstore.

“My father shocked us,” says Brian, almost 30 years later. “He actually purchased one of those rugs and used it in the playroom.”

The trip made quite an impression because each of Morris Jr.’s five sons—Morris III, Brian, Roddrick, Richard, and Robert—would go on to graduate from UGA. They have earned a combined 11 degrees, they occupy -influential positions in the work force, and the University remains an integral part of their lives to this day.

“[Going to UGA] was always in the back of my mind,” says Brian, who is now an assistant professor in UGA’s School of Public and International Affairs—and married to former Lady Bulldog basketball star Carla Green (AB ’89, MPA ’91), an associate athletic director at UGA.

Roddrick Williams (AB ’93, MPA ’96), the third of the five brothers, was equally impressed by that first weekend visit. He got to meet former UGA quarterback Ray Goff, who was then a key recruiter for the Bulldogs. He ate his first Waffle House breakfast. And he was energized by the enthusiasm of the pre-game crowd.

“The stadium was very loud, and the fans were enthusiastic,” says Roddrick, who now works for Shell Pipeline Company in Houston, Texas.

Richard Williams (BSEd ’95, MEd ’97, EdD ’02), number four in line, was also in awe.

“At the tender age of seven, I witnessed a sea of red and black surrounding -Sanford Stadium,” says Richard, who is now an associate professor and department chair at Langston University in Oklahoma—and married to UGA alum Demetria Gibson Williams (BBA ’96, JD ’99). “It was at that moment that I knew I wanted to be a part of the Bulldog Nation.”

Subsequent campus visits to see their older brother, Morris Williams III (AB ’86, MPA ’88), cemented the -notion that UGA was the best place for all five brothers.

Morris III had originally planned to attend Huntington College to play tennis. But pro--UGA supporters at the First Missionary Baptist Church in Thomasville convinced him to become a Bulldog. He began working on a degree in political science and is now an assistant county administrator in DeKalb.

“My brother kind of sealed the deal for all of us,” says Brian. “Staying in Morris’ dorm room, getting that exposure, saying ‘Man, this is what it’s like to be a college student!’ ”

Roddrick made his final decision about UGA in the sixth grade after -visiting Morris III. He remembers piling into his grandmother’s Ford Fairmont at 6 a.m. to make the trip to Athens—and the camaraderie that existed in Morris’ college environment.

“Morris introduced us to all of his UGA friends and fraternity brothers, and he got us tickets to the game,” says Roddrick. “We tailgated and had a great time—just like our family would do at home—which led me to believe that UGA was something -special.”

Richard recognized the same sense of community: “I knew that the -University of Georgia was a place where individuals gathered and became life-long family.”

Each of the brothers played organized sports in high school and recreationally in college. Morris III and Roddrick demonstrated considerable prowess in pickup basketball games at Stegeman Coliseum. Robert and Brian played -tennis, and Richard was a varsity football player at Thomasville High. Despite his love for the game, Brian never played football for his father’s team, a decision he attributes to a rebellious streak that kept him out of organized football—but didn’t prevent him from following his family’s other passion: education.

Morris III set a graduate level standard for his brothers when he earned his master’s in public administration.

“He kind of set the bar for us in terms of going to grad school,” says Brian, who didn’t initially think he would follow in the footsteps of not only his parents but his maternal grandparents.

“I didn’t think I would do [teaching], but it’s something I’ve enjoyed,” says Brian. “You give of yourself, but you get so much in return.”

That realization is something that came from watching his mother, who dedicated her life to education.

orn in Waycross but reared in Thomasville, Frances Greene was the daughter of two educators—and a gifted student in her own right. At the age of 15, she graduated from the high school where her parents taught. Having already been accepted to Oberlin -College at 14, she opted instead to attend what is now Clark--Atlanta University. She -majored in music and got a master’s in vocal performance at Illinois-Wesleyan. She taught briefly at Virginia Union, but when her father was diagnosed with cancer she moved back to Thomasville to care for him. Taking a job at then-segregated Douglass High School, she met Morris Williams Jr., a young teacher who also coached football. They married, and became fixtures in the Thomas County community.

The impact that Frances had on her Thomasville High students is what convinced Brian that dedicated teachers can make a dramatic difference in young people’s lives. When she passed away on Aug. 30, 2004, Hurricane Frances—ironically—was battering the Atlantic coast near Tallahassee.

“The day of the funeral was the same time it came ashore, up through Tallahassee and toward Thomasville with the wind and the rain,” Brian recalls. Due to the weather, the Williams brothers expected attendance at their mother’s funeral to be sparse.

“When we drove up, literally, the church was packed,” says Brian. Extra seating had to be provided in the church’s lower section, where visitors viewed the service over closed-circuit television.

“As a kid, I always wondered why my mom gave so much of herself,” says -Brian. “I’d think, ‘That’s crazy. People -really don’t appreciate what you do.’ But [her funeral] made me realize that people really do appreciate what you do. People came out in the storm and the rain.”

Even members of the Williams brothers’ fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi, drove down to pay their respects to the teacher who had meant so much to generations of Thomasville students.

If Frances Williams taught her sons the value of education, their father taught them the importance of hard work.

“My dad was one where there were a few things you had to do,” says Brian. “You had to make good grades, you had to work, and you had to be involved in some kind of extracurricular activity.”

My father worked to put himself through college and graduate school,” adds Roddrick. “As a result, my siblings all had jobs working 30 to 40 hours a week in college.”

The value of hard work was not just a principle Morris Jr. pushed on his sons. It’s one he lived by, even as a young man. At a time when full scholarships for athletes were not common, Morris earned his education on the ball fields at Albany State University. He played four different sports, earning partial scholarships in each, majoring in math and minoring in physical education.

After college, Morris Jr. spent two years in Korea with the U.S. Army -before returning stateside and completing his master’s degree at Florida A&M. As their family grew, he and Frances built a house to accommodate the boys.

“They knew we were going to be rough kids, I guess, because as they were building they converted plans for a -garage into a playroom,” says Brian.

That playroom became a staging area for all manner of athletic roughhousing, including a game invented in honor of their favorite UGA student-athlete.

“Herschel Walker’s signature play was diving over the top, and there was a sofa in the playroom,” says Brian. “We would get one of the younger ones—we would be the defensive line—and he had to dive over us. We would hit him and flip him over the top. We have a lot of good memories!”

The playroom also reflected Morris Jr. and Frances’ determination to see their sons properly educated. Bookshelves were lined with World Book, Britannica, and ChildCraft encyclopedias, and the room was used as often for schoolwork as it was for scoring imaginary touchdowns. Evidence of the Williams’ commitment to education went beyond the playroom library. Frances would work the holiday season at Woolworth’s to put aside money in a college fund. When Morris Jr. became a guidance counselor, he used his expertise to make sure his boys were prepared for the rigors of -college life. Their parents offered whatever financial help they could as well.

“One of the things my parents -always said was, ‘We’re going to do the best we can to try and help you guys be as successful as you can be,’ ” says Brian. “They were educators, so they didn’t have a lot of money, but they did work hard. Some people invest in this, some people invest in that. They believed in investing in education.”

The dividends of that investment are apparent. Morris III recently oversaw Dekalb County’s outreach efforts in housing evacuees from Hurricane Katrina. Brian, the academician of the family, is the author of -Citizen Perspectives on Community Policing: A Case Study in Athens, Georgia (State -University of New York Press). -Roddrick is a human resources manager for Shell Pipeline. Richard earned a post--doctoral fellowship at Emory University in Atlanta before taking on his recent -responsibilities at Langston University. And the youngest of the Williams brothers, Robert (BS ’05), just accepted a fashion merchandising position with the corporate office of Robinsons-May department stores in Los Angeles.

Brian enjoyed his teaching stints at Florida State and Vanderbilt, but the lure of Athens was eventually too great. He and Carla have three children: Carmen, 10, Camryn, 6, and Josh, 17 months.

“Brian loves being on a college campus,” says Carla, who recalls participating in pickup basketball games with Morris III and Roddrick at Stegeman before meeting her future husband in an impromptu study session for an MPA comprehensive exam. “Both of us enjoy athletics, and the children love coming to sporting events. It’s a great environment to raise children.”

With Robert in Los Angeles, -Roddrick in Houston, and Richard in Oklahoma, family gatherings are not as frequent as the brothers would like. But they all made it back this fall to see Georgia beat Arkansas 23-20 at homecoming. Their connection to each other remains as strong and impressive as their collective accomplishments—which are no surprise to anyone familiar with the Williams family.

“My mother was one of the first -African Americans to perform a soprano concert at the University of Georgia,” says Roddrick, “and I recall seeing a picture of her being guarded by state -patrolmen with some concerned -students and adults in the background.”

The looks on people’s faces when they ascertain how many of my siblings attended UGA—the degrees we -obtained, and the endeavors that all of us have pursued and accomplished—that picture also comes to mind because -people, like those in my mother’s -picture, are still amazed.”

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photos by Rick O'Quinn

Click on image to enlarge

The patriarch of the family, Morris Jr., preached good grades, an after-school job, and extra-curricular activities.

Frances was the daughter of a teacher and a school principal.

A family portrait with wives, children—and Dad—prior to this year’s homecoming

Carla Green Williams (AB ’89, MPA ’91), associate athletic director at UGA