At the close of Wednesday afternoon’s reception honoring Northern Illinois University executive vice president and chief of operations Eddie R. Williams, NIU President John G. Peters announced that the university’s black choir will be heretofore called the Eddie R. Williams Black Choir after its longtime adviser.
Hundreds of current and former students and trustees—as well as annuitants, faculty and staff members—came to the Altgeld Auditorium to pay tribute to Williams, who will retire after nearly 43 years of service to NIU on May 31.
Former NIU Student Association president Delonte LeFlore was one of many influenced by Williams over the years—a long list that includes trustee Wheeler Coleman.
“That’s the person I want to learn from. That’s who I want to mentor me,” LeFlore said, telling those gathered about the first time he first met Williams at the NIU Black Choir. “Dr. Williams, I will always remember the things that you’ve taught me.”
Williams’ service to NIU will be most remembered for his skills and ability to effectively manage the resources of the institution in the midst of difficult fiscal challenges caused by diminished state support for higher education in Illinois, increased financial pressures caused by rising costs and the state’s cash-flow shortfalls, all while balancing the demands and needs of a dynamic university and its students, faculty and staff.
Peters thanked Williams for his service in many roles at NIU, which have included “math professor, financial manager of our capital projects, mentor, chief operating officer, and friend and advisor to me and moral force for this university and doesn’t get half of the credit that he deserves.”
Peters said it was fitting that the reception take place in Altgeld Hall because the modern manifestation of Altgeld was largely the result of Williams’ work in managing the restoration of the building and the budget for it.
Peters was concerned at the time that the state’s contribution would not cover the costs of the renovation, but then, “He said those words I came to treasure over the years. He turned and looked at me and said, ‘We’re good. We have a plan.’”
Peters went on to describe the areas of student and faculty life Williams had impacted during his years at NIU, including academic, cultural, residential, athletics. He cited construction of the Convocation Center, new residence halls, Center for the Study of Family Violence as well as the beautification of campus. In each case, he came back to Williams’ phrase: “We’re good. We have a plan.”
Steven Cunningham, who worked alongside Williams for the past 23 years as an administrator, spoke to Williams’ ability to address what he called the fairest urgency of the moment.
“Whether it’s a problem, an opportunity or a situation, every moment has its own unique dynamic,” Cunningham said, “and Dr. Williams has always been in tune with that and had it right within his sights with a laser focus.”
“Eddie saved NIU many times,” said former trustee and regent Myron Siegel. “His unique understanding of the budgetary process, accounting, and understanding of how the budget process works–combined with his political instincts–allowed NIU become a first class institution of higher learning.”
Assistant Provost for Resource Planning Frederick Schwantes praised Williams for his decision making and his ability to account for the many different points of view within the university community.
“The wide perspective is he takes in making a decision is what impresses me the most,” Schwantes said. “It has benefited the university, the various groups within the university, DeKalb and Sycamore and the surrounding communities.”
Perhaps most importantly, Dr. Williams was remembered for the students and staff he has influenced as a math professor, advisor, mentor and administrator.
“Eddie has been a mentor to many, empowering students and staffers alike,” said NIU Trustee Robert Boey, Chair of the Finance and Facilities Committee, who has worked with Williams for 16 years. “I look around this room and see so many who have been touched by him. His impact on NIU will live on through all of you.”