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$2 million gift funds speakers/perfomers

Marlene and Richard WillaimsMarlene and Richard Williams

A $2 million commitment from Richard Williams ’63 and Marlene Williams, honorary alumna, will be used primarily to fund visits by speakers and performers who can inspire and energize students to make a difference in their lives and the lives of others.

After he heard the October 1962 campus speech by Martin Luther King Jr., Williams recalls, “It made me want to participate in world affairs, to become involved.”

“You can get involved in everyday life, going to class, making sure a paper is written, but lose sight of why you’re doing it. On the other hand, after returning from a great lecture or performance, you’re energized. These can be lifetransforming opportunities. Students go to college for a limited time, and hopefully it does transform their lives.”

Williams later took part in civil rights marches in Chicago. Following Georgetown University Law School in Washington, D.C., he returned home to Chicago to become a founding partner of Hlustik, Huizenga, Williams & Vander Woude, Ltd. He is a five-term member of Cornell’s Board of Trustees. In 1991 he endowed a lecture series that has helped to fund visits by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and other speakers.

“Cornell gave so much to me. With scholarships and campus jobs I was able to pay for my college education. This is a payback to the college that gave me so much. Marlene respects that, so we’re doing this together,” he says. The Williamses have two adult children.

Their gift also will support the annual fund, pre-law program, and the Beta Omicron Distinguished Alumni Visitors Program. Williams wants students and student organizations to suggest ideas for campus visitors, including musical or comedy acts.

“We want to bring people to campus that students want to see and hear and that will motivate them and provide different perspectives,” he says.

President Les Garner says the pledge is indicative of the Williamses’ longtime loyalty to Cornell.

“Rich and Marlene have provided outstanding leadership and support to Cornell. We are grateful for Rich’s commitment to ensure that our students today have the same extraordinary opportunities he had on the Hilltop,” Garner said.