Livingstone's Eldridge Williams retires

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 12, 2011

By Laurie D. Willis
Livingstone College News Service
An illustrious career at Livingstone College officially came to an end Friday when Eldridge S. Williams — a past member of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education and the Salisbury Planning Board — bid farewell at a retirement party that featured special videotaped remarks from Mayor Susan W. Kluttz.
Williams, a member of the Class of 1969 at Livingstone College, started working at his alma mater in 1989. During his 22 years at Livingstone he has worked in several capacities, including assistant vice president of community development and community relations, director of human resources, director of community and governmental relations and assistant director of career and community services.
State W. Alexander III, executive assistant to the president/director of public relations, opened the event by saying the Livingstone College family wanted to “give Mr. Williams his roses while he can still enjoy them.”
Vicki R. Gray, director of career services, told Williams he deserved to retire.
“I’ve worked with you since I started here, and you taught me a lot,” Gray said. “I will miss you being my right hand, and the students will miss coming to you for their community service needs.”
After detailing the list of jobs Williams has held at Livingstone, Gray said: “So if anyone deserves to retire, it is most definitely you! Take care. We love you.”
Williams, a soft-spoken man who didn’t seek the limelight at Livingstone College but was always willing to do whatever was needed of him, was clearly touched throughout the ceremony. He sat at the head table flanked by his wife, Brenda Williams, Livingstone College President Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins Sr., Alexander and Augustus L. Jones Sr., president of the Livingstone College National Alumni Association.
His classmate, Delores Johnson, couldn’t say enough about Williams.
“You have always been dear in our hearts,” Johnson said. “You are a bit mischievous at times, but I’m glad this occasion has come for us all to celebrate you and love you.”
Kluttz couldn’t attend the ceremony but sent a video tribute that moved Williams to tears.
“I’m delighted to be here today on behalf of the city of Salisbury and also personally,” Kluttz said. “I wish I could be here in person, and I’m sorry a conflict kept me from attending this special event for you, Eldridge Williams. I was working for the school system way back in the early ’90s when you were first elected to the school board, so I was able to see firsthand your dedication, your willingness to speak up, your willingness to make sure things were right, not only for the African-American community, which you did excellently, but also for all of our citizens, and particularly for our children.”
Kluttz mentioned Williams’ time on the planning board, as well.
“I also remember back in the late ’90s when you were a part of a very special team, which was the Vision 2020 Task Force, and you spent two and a half years along with other selected people in the city to plan our future with a comprehensive growth plan that we still follow today,” Kluttz said. “You’ve been a wonderful part of Livingstone College; you’ve been an excellent representative in the city, always promoting what’s best for the college and for its students. You’ve done a wonderful job for our children and for all of our citizens, and for that I particularly wanted to be able to address you at your reception here today and just say thank you, Eldridge Williams, to you and your family for all that you’ve contributed to the city in the past. And I just wish you the very best for a wonderful future. Good luck.”
Jones, of Livingstone’s national alumni association, said Williams has always been an integral part of the college. He mentioned homecoming and how alumni knew they could always count on Williams to welcome them when they arrived on campus.
“We just wish you the best and thank you for all you’ve done for our beloved Livingstone,” Jones said. “We know, we know that you have made Livingstone College a better place.”
Linda Jones, executive director of the Salisbury Symphony, said she didn’t know Williams as long or as well as some of the people gathered for his party — but she knew enough.
“I know his heart and his big, welcoming arms,” she said. “He’s the best hugger you have here. On behalf of the Salisbury Symphony, we congratulate you.”
Williams’ wife said when she thinks of her husband, she thinks of “a man who is truly humble, a servant and who is dedicated.”
She referenced a devastating fire that destroyed the Williams’ home last year and thanked Livingstone College “for what you’ve done for our family.”
Jenkins joked about his love of retirement parties, saying he hopes to attend his own some day. Then Jenkins turned serious and likened Williams to an iconic personality capable of molding and shaping institutions into what they should be.
“Eldridge Williams is that kind of person,” Jenkins said. “There was always a positive spirit that came from him. When I’d see him on campus, he’d always say ‘Good morning, Mr. President.’ As I looked around, I realized he was making that kind of mark in the community as well — to mold and shape the quality of life in the community. Eldridge Williams, we here at Livingstone College truly appreciate you.”
Jenkins gave Williams a plaque. Then it was time for Williams to speak.
“My wife asked me what I was going to say and I said well, when I get up, I’ll say what’s on my mind, and I guess that’s the way I’ve always been,” Williams began. “I want to thank everybody who has spoken. I have just given of myself and …” Williams was unable to finish through his emotions and tears.
Williams’ sons, Demond, 32, a former Livingstone student, and Thaddeus, 19, a sophomore computer engineering major at Johnson C. Smith University, attended the celebration. Their sister, Janoah, 18, a Salisbury High School senior, was at UNC Charlotte for early registration and unable to attend. Several other relatives and close family friends were on hand to help Williams celebrate.
“He has given so much to the college, and for them to have this retirement party and for the mayor to send a videotaped presentation just shows that if you work hard, the end will be great,” Thaddeus said.
Brenda Williams was very touched by the tribute.
“I just was very overwhelmed by how people really feel about my husband, and for them to go to this extent to honor my husband makes me feel glad, especially since I’m a Livingstone College alum as well.”
As people mingled, dined on heavy hors d’oeuvres and listened to hit tunes by Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Earth Wind & Fire and others, Williams reflected on the retirement party, his time at Livingstone College and his service to the city of Salisbury.
“I was happy to work for the institution I graduated from,” Williams said. “Whatever they needed, I just went with the flow. But this retirement party just gives me more appreciation for my college. As for the city, every position they ever appointed me to, I tried to serve the city as best I could.”