2020, Enough Already! (*not* woodworking)

Yesterday saw another great loss in the World of Williams, when only four days after the passing of my own dear mother and the same day her remains were interred, our long-time friend Prof. Walter E. Williams died, apparently in his sleep overnight after teaching class the previous day.  Ironically I met him first on my mom’s birthday in January 1985, when I wrangled myself an invitation to a faculty seminar he was presenting at the University of Delaware (where I was a student commuting one day a week back from Mordor) and then to the Provost’s dinner afterwards where I sat opposite him.  We talked a long time before his public lecture later that evening, I think the topic was transaction theory revolving around the sale/purchase of an apple, and he accepted my invitation to dinner since he was teaching on the west side of DC and we were living on the east side.  It was the first of many dinners in our home, complimented by many times when he took us to his favorite Mexican or French restaurants on his side of town.

Dinner at our house c.2012.

Having spent time with him dozens of times over the past 35 years I can attest to his good humor and graciousness, his breadth of curiosity and knowledge, and his ability to teach in any situation.  Dinners with him sitting at our table were wildly entertaining and profound learning opportunities, I remember once have a two-hour discussion of the economist’s perspectives on the “optimal depth of top soil for farms.”

Admittedly Walter was from another branch of the family, but he was a dear family friend nonetheless.

For many years he served on the governing Board of Grove City College and strongly encouraged our daughters to attend.  When applying there one of them said, “It sure doesn’t hurt list Dr. Walter Williams as a reference when submitting the Application.”  I recall a moment four years later at graduation, when the festivities corresponded with The Board’s Annual Meeting.  Coming outside after Baccalaureate I spotted him surrounded by a throng of people some distance away (he always attracted a crowd!).  I caught his eye and he immediately excused himself from the crowd and walked over to give warm congratulations to our daughter and to us.  I think he might have hugged her, which would have been a sight since he was a giant and she was not very large.

When I tried to kill myself with the lawn tractor a few months ago he wrote me a warm but scolding note to avoid such an incidents in the future.  I had written him a similar note a few years earlier when he slipped on the ice and broke his ankle.

We had been corresponding about arranging a time for dinner together early next year, an always challenging task since neither of us lived in the DC area (he commuted into town for 2-1/2 days a week and we are 200+ miles away).  I thought we had it nailed down to the last week of January or the first week of February, but now he, too, is gone.  To be sure we will miss his gentle friendship, but the nation will fare far worse without his insights challenging the prevailing “wisdom.”

I will leave you with one of my favorite “Walter Stories,” (his takedown of Teddy Kennedy will have to wait).  During the transition from Presidents Carter to Reagan, Walter was offered numerous posts in the Reagan Administration.  Board of Governors for the Federal Reserve Bank.  Secretary of Labor.  Secretary of Education.  Presidential Advisor.  Etc., etc., etc.  He declined them all.  When asked if he would accept any appointment, he replied, “Supreme Court.”

“As only an economist what qualifications do you have to sit on the Supreme Court?” he was asked.

“As only an actor, what qualifications do you have to be President?” he replied.  Though a supporter of Reagan, he was making a point.

He was always making a point, usually while laughing.

Farewell Walter, and 2020 please be done and gone.  (It gives me pause to realize that IIRC the movie Mad Max was set in the year 2021.  Heaven help us, and I mean that literally.)