Walter Williams, one of East Carolina University’s most loyal advocates and benefactors, died in the early morning hours of March 5, 2018. He was 88.
Williams and his wife Marie were champions of ECU programs across campus and have given more than $6 million to the university. Williams was a loyal Pirate Club member for over 50 years, served as the executive president from 1997 to 1998 and was director emeritus until his death. He also served on the university’s Board of Trustees from 1995-1999.
“Walter’s long-time support and advocacy helped make ECU what it is today,” Chancellor Cecil Staton said. “He and Marie set a high bar for giving at ECU and are true examples of the impact that individuals can make in the success of our university. Upon arriving in Greenville, Walter became a mentor and friend to me. I was always grateful for his wise counsel. He will be missed.”
In recognition of their years of dedication to and support of the university, Walter and Marie Williams received the inaugural Chancellor’s Amethyst in November 2016. The distinction celebrates a demonstrated and ongoing legacy of philanthropy to the university.
Notable donations from the Williams’ family include providing the Pirate Club with its first-ever $1 million gift in 1993, which went toward renovating Minges Coliseum. As a result, the basketball arena was rededicated as Williams Arena in their honor. The Williams-Harvey Teams Building and the Smith-Williams Center (Hall of Fame) also bear their name. They most recently made a $1 million leadership commitment to support the Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium Southside Renovation Campaign.
“Through five decades of generous support and service to the Pirate Club, Walter touched the lives of many across Pirate Nation,” Pirate Club Executive Director Phillip Wood said. “His long-time passion for ECU Athletics was unrivaled. Taking the lead on our capital campaigns, he was instrumental in providing ECU Athletics and our student-athletes a foundation for future success. His ECU legacy will live on as we celebrate his remarkable life.”
William’s support extended to academics as well. He helped fund the STEPP (Supporting Transition and Education through Planning and Partnerships) program, aimed at supporting students with learning disabilities.
Williams earned a bachelor’s degree in 1951 and a master’s degree in 1955, both from ECU. One of four children growing up on a tobacco farm south of Greenville, he went on to become the founder of Trade Mart, a successful chain of gas stations and convenience stores with outlets up and down the eastern seaboard.
While he never hesitated to share that business success with ECU, Williams was unceasingly humble about his philanthropy. As he told ECU’s magazine, East, in 2007, “I’m just a hard-working old man. You can’t go through life getting accolades unless you are willing to pay the price of working for those accolades.”
Walter and Marie Williams, center and right, speak with ECU’s STEPP program director Sarah Williams during an event in 2014 recognizing the couple’s sizable donation to the program. The program was renamed the Walter and Marie Williams STEPP program in their honor.