Syracuse University Magazine

An Officer and a Gentleman

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For more than four decades, Major Grant Williams Jr., an officer in the Department of Public Safety (DPS), served as a mentor and friend to many students, earning a unique place in their hearts. In December, members of the University community honored him at a memorial ceremony in Hendricks Chapel, attempting to return, in some small measure, the kindness that Williams shared with generations of SU students. Williams was a familiar figure on campus, and recognized by many beyond as the uniformed officer sitting behind the home team bench at the Carrier Dome, assigned to secure the safety of Orange student-athletes and coaches. Further tribute was paid to Williams in February at the Carrier Dome with the dedication of a plaque at the entrance to the home locker room, recognizing the special contribution he made to the lives of Syracuse's student-athletes. "Grant will be remembered most for the positive impact he had on students and the great caring he showed in his interactions with students and parents," said DPS Chief Anthony Callisto Jr. G'98.

Following Williams's death on November 27, outpourings of sympathy and grief came from Orange alumni, students, faculty, and staff. Stars of the sports world, including Trustee Donovan McNabb '99 and Derrick Coleman '90, offered the Williams family personal condolences. Head football coach Doug Marrone '91 and assistant basketball coach Mike Hopkins '93 were among the mourners at Hendricks Chapel. "I've missed [Grant] since I left," NBA veteran Jason Hart '00 told Syracuse Post-Standard columnist Sean Kirst. Joseph Clore '72, G'74, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official, described Williams as "a silent hero for minority males." Clore, a Buffalo native, recalled how he and other inner-city students were reluctant to approach professors and advisors with problems, and how Williams understood that and stepped up to fill the void. "I've always tried to be an advocate for students," Williams said in a 2004 interview with Syracuse University Magazine. "You have to know what is bothering them so you can understand why they might be causing problems. And you find that out by listening, not by being judgmental." 

Williams, who also served as assistant director for crime prevention and community relations at DPS, was a Marylander by birth. He was forced by financial circumstances to leave college, something he never felt good about. Decades later, he earned a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, summa cum laude, from St. John's University in Louisiana through a distance-learning program. A self-taught artist, Williams enjoyed showing his drawings at the University's On My Own Time exhibitions. He is survived by his wife of 45 years, Maxine, director of elementary education for the Syracuse City School District, their three children, and four grandchildren.

"If a kid is 99 percent ‘bad,' I'll find the other 1 percent," Williams said. "That gives you a base to start growing from." —David Marc