Claude Williams Jr., a friend to Grady College, to the University of Georgia and to the Athens community, passed away Jan. 20, 2018.
“Claude Williams was a Grady icon, a man of substance who made huge contributions to journalism, to civic life in Athens, and to the society as a whole through his many good works,” Charles Davis, dean of Grady College, said. “His gentle spirit and kindness to all who knew him will form his legacy. He was quite simply one of the nicest, most supportive people, and always asked how he could help the college.”
Williams, who earned his journalism degree from Grady College in 1948, was passionate about journalism and was a big supporter of his alma mater, its faculty and its students.
“If you have Claude Williams for a friend, you don’t need but one,” Cully Clark, dean emeritus of Grady College, said of Williams in 2013 when he was awarded the Dean’s medal.
Williams was a counselor to Clark when he assumed the role of dean.
“I can’t begin to tell you what Claude meant to me, but it was everything,” Clark continued. “In the most difficult times, and every dean has them, Claude heard me out and always had his arm on my shoulder.”
Putting his journalism degree to go use, Williams made a huge impact on communications in Athens and other Georgia communities by operating several radio stations early in his career and starting an outdoor advertising company later in life. Perhaps one of the biggest impacts he made to the Athens community was when he started the Athens Daily News.
While at Athens Daily News, he worked with Grady alumnus Mark Smith (ABJ ’66), a relationship that would have a profound impact on Smith and would last more than 50 years.
“Claude was a friend and a mentor,” Smith said. “At an early age, he taught me the importance and value of hard work, fairness, family and sharing. We stayed in touch all the years and he shared my successes and failures, but was always there with advice. Any success I have had I owe in part to Claude Williams.”
Community involvement was a cornerstone in Williams’ life with involvement in everything from serving as Athens Area Chamber of Commerce president and on several boards of local banks, to working as a founder of the Athens Athletic Hall of Fame and on the first board for the Boys Club, just to name a few.
“He did much for many, often anonymously,” Smith recalled.
Williams earned a history degree from UGA before he earned his journalism degree, and giving back to the university was always important to him. He was a trustee of the University of Georgia Foundation Board from 1993 to 2002, and he started the Claude Williams Venture Fund at Grady College to support future journalists.
“I want to contribute to helping students and people, not brick and mortar,” Williams said in a 2015 interview with Grady College students. “That’s been a theme in my civic and outside activities, and you ought to give back to your community. If you live in a community, you better be involved with that community.”
When Williams was named an inaugural Grady Fellow in 2008, he reflected on his time at Grady College.
“I have many fond memories of my time as a student at UGA and the Grady College,” Williams said. “My most valuable and lasting experience was Dean John Drewry’s magazine class. It was in this class that I learned to scan and read several newspapers, magazines and periodicals daily. Valuable lessons that have benefited me greatly during the last 60 years.”
It is hard to imagine what more Williams could have packed into his life. His most important role was that of husband to his wife of 70 years, Charlotte, and father to their two children, R. Sanders Williams and Lynn Dicks. Charlotte preceded Claude in death by six days.
“I think Claude waited until everything was done for Charlotte and then said a farewell himself,” Parker Middleton, a friend and senior director of external relations at Grady College, said. “That is just who he was.”
Before all his business ventures and his civic involvement, Williams was a war hero. He enlisted as a second lieutenant in the 63rd Division along the French-German border adjacent to Switzerland during World War II. He was involved in breaking through Germany’s so-called “Impenetrable West Wall,” the Siegfried Line, and served under Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower as a Special Services officer after the war ended. For his heroism during the war, Williams earned a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star and a Silver Star. In 2013, he was awarded the Legion of Honor medal by the French consulate, an honor, established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 and bestowed on U.S. veterans who risked their lives to liberate France.