PRINCESS ANNE — University of Maryland Eastern Shore Athletics lost an ambassador, a Hall of Famer and a larger-than-life fixture at events when Jesse T. Williams Sr. passed away over the last weekend of April 2021.
“Jesse was a friend, he was a confidant, he was a loyal supporter and someone that has helped guide me through my journey here in Princess Anne,” Director of Athletics Keith Davidson said. “He loved this University without hesitation. He and Ms. Vernetta, his loving wife, best friend and fellow alumni, were examples of what it means to be Hawks. Jesse would tell anyone who listened that this University gave him his life and his wife.
“He felt it was important to give back to the school; he gave of his time, talent and treasure and encouraged everyone to give back in their way.”
In 1958, Williams stepped off a bus in Princess Anne to play basketball. He had left Philadelphia with little more than a modest amount of clothing in a suitcase and a burning desire to get a college education. It was a story about the effect that opportunity had on his life that he was proud to tell to many over the years.
A 1962 graduate of then Maryland State College, he played four years for the Hawks (1959-62) and is one of the top rebounders in program history — once pulling down 26 boards against Morgan State.
Alongside frontcourt greats like Trent Harris and Wilbur Smith, Williams helped pace the Hawks to a 70-27 record during his playing days, earning the right to play in the NAIA National Tournament in the 1959-60 season. He averaged 8.2 points per game and finished with 251 rebounds that year. He was inducted into the UMES Hall of Fame in 2004.
For three of his seasons in Maroon and Gray, Williams shared the court and Room 44 in Somerset Hall with another Philadelphia native in the late David Riddick — who he called one of his three best friends. The two would, in their later years, share courtside seats and a lot of Hawk Pride.
His 12.5 points and 12.5 rebounds career averages were a huge contribution on the court, but much like his friend of 60 years he still somehow left his greatest mark off the court.
“Jesse Williams epitomized the spirit of being a Hawk,” former Men’s Basketball coach (2008-2014) and current broadcaster Frankie Allen said. “He embodied all the qualities you want in a friend. I am grateful to say that I was able to consider him a dear friend and a confidant. Our long talks are something that I will always treasure.
“In tribute to Jesse, I am reminded of the quote by Thomas Hughes — ‘Blessed are they who have the gift of making friends, for it is one of God's best gifts. It involves many things, but above all, the power of going out of one's self and appreciating whatever is noble and loving in another.’ Jesse was that man; he had that gift. Cindy and I offer our deepest sympathies and condolences to the Williams family and the entire Hawk family.”
After graduation, Williams went on to a successful career with the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., where he rose through the senior management ranks, including Vice President of Human Resources Policy, Employment Practices and Systems, before retiring in 1998.
Williams joined the Board of Directors of Ohio Edison in 1992. He was then named a board member of FirstEnergy Corp. when it was formed in 1997 following the merger of Ohio Edison and Centerior Energy Corp. He retired from the board in 2012 after several successful mergers over his tenure.
In 1997 when the university created its first Board of Visitors advisory panel, Williams was named its chairman. He held that position until 2014.
After earning his Bachelor’s degree, Williams completed post graduate work at Northwestern University, Morehouse College and Yale University. In addition, he was awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters honorary degree from UMES.
Williams was a towering figure in both his business acumen and his size of 6-foot-8 — which combined with his energy and zest for life belied his age of 82.
“Mr. Williams was a great man, who loved this University unconditionally,” Associate Director of Athletics G. Stan Bradley said. “He made it known that he owed his life to his decision to attend school here and then continued to support the University, including athletics, whenever he could. He always wanted to help and always wanted his Alma mater to succeed. Jesse T. Williams, Sr. was one of the kindest, most giving and thoughtful Hawks I have ever met in my 20 plus years here. He always expressed his gratitude for what he considered a service to his school and often gave advice that I still hold dear today. He is someone who will continue to be held in the highest regard, personally, by athletics and the University as whole.”
Williams was a staunch supporter of Hawk Athletics, helping as a fundraiser for several facility upgrades, including locker room renovations and organizing the formation of the Thunderin' Hawks Pep Band. He and his wife also supported several academic scholarship funds as well as student and faculty development programs.
On Oct. 16, 2015, the university named the playing surface in the William P. Hytche Athletic Center after the longtime season ticket holder and courtside mainstay.
“He was a mentor to student-athletes and coaches, he was a mentor to me,” Davidson said. “He loved this University and had a special place in his heart for athletics and basketball in particular. He was proud that our court bears his name. He could have had other buildings on campus named after him as a donor, but the court was a special place for him.
“Basketball was a special sport to him, but that never stopped him from supporting all of our sports and academic programs. He always wanted to make us better. I will miss him sitting courtside and taking in the game, his weekend phone calls of encouragement and his signature fist bump. He was a great man and a great Hawk.”
He was an active congregant in the Cornerstone Fellowship Baptist Church and is a lifetime member of the NAACP, Phi Beta Sigma and Sigma Pi Phi fraternities.
Williams is survived by his wife Vernetta — who he met standing in line on campus in 1959 — his son Jesse T. Williams Jr., daughter Jesselyn (Thomson) and four grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, the family would like to ask that donations be made to The Delmarva Power Jesse T. Williams Scholarship Fund, which was created to provide financial support for a student athlete in the school of Business and Technology.