Remembering Dr. Carolyn G. Williams: Marcia V. Keizs, President of York College, Retired
I became first a colleague, then a friend of Carolyn G. Williams in the mid-1990s when she hired me as Vice President for Academic Affairs at Bronx Community College/CUNY. I soon discovered that Carolyn’ s core values were nurtured, honed and practiced daily over a lifetime of caring, from her early days at Wayne State to her later years at Highland Park, then to the challenges in Los Angeles at Southwest Community College and finally in New York City at Bronx Community College. These values sustained her journey even when she was far from home and those who anchored her: her husband Houston, daughter Stacy, her Mom, her sisters and other members of her family, as well as the Detroit circle of friends. She managed her work and her life before we knew the work/life balance moniker.
Carolyn moved with grace, ease and a wisdom that comes with confidence and a balanced understanding of one’s place in the world. She excelled on the campus at BCC, in South Africa, where she led the development of the community college movement in post-apartheid South Africa, or advocating in Washington, D.C., Albany, New York City or CUNY Central. The first woman to serve as president of BCC, Carolyn thought big. She amplified Study Abroad, introducing Bronx students to the Salzburg experience; she raised funds to give financial support to students; she expanded opportunities for faculty scholarship and collaboration across disciplines; she encouraged and prodded new talent into leadership positions; and she partnered with her senior college and K-12 leaders to assure a seamless transition from high school to college. In all of this, she was a leader, a visionary, a collaborator who engaged with all parties to make big dreams come true for the BCC community.
Under Carolyn’s leadership, her team made progress on all fronts: enrollment, academic programs, budget, student success, assessment, faculty engagement and scholarship. We even started to get some traction, with Carolyn’s tenacious leadership and Mary Coleman’s savvy, on our Capital Projects, with the ultimate achievement of the construction of North Hall and Library.
On my retirement in 2019, I spent a few days with Carolyn and Houston in their expansive pre-World War II vibrantly colored and comfortably appointed apartment filled with love, memories, memorabilia and eclectically selected art objects. I listened to the narrative of their lives: Houston’s stories of the old Detroit he knew as a young man and as a young professional. We reflected on their New York years, including Carolyn’s teaching as University Professor at Lehman College and her continued activities with National Council of Black American Affairs of the American Association of Community Colleges.
My family shares the sadness of Carolyn’s passing. She fought a valiant battle with the illness that slowly and irrevocably took its toll on the tiny frame of her body, but was never any real threat to her big heart and soul. So now we mourn the loss to her family, her friends, the BCC community, CUNY and the higher education community at large.
Carolyn Grubbs Williams: After Life’s Fitful Fever She Sleeps Well. May she rest in peace and light perpetual shine on her.