UConn’s first African-American professor dies
University honors the memory of professor emeritus Rollin C. Williams
Published: Thursday, October 4, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 4, 2012 23:10
UConn’s first African-American professor recently died at age 90 and left the university a portion of his estate in his will.
In 1957, Rollin C. Williams made history when he took a job as an associate professor with the School of Social Work. He worked at UConn for 30 years, and served as an interim dean as well as running admissions before retiring as a professor emeritus.
Williams died on September 24 in Waterford, Conn. after a short illness.
In his will, Williams left UConn a portion of his estate out of gratitude for the enjoyable years he spent with the university.
“Rollin had a deep fondness for the UConn School of Social Work, and we are grateful for his commitment and contributions,” Salome Raheim, the dean of the School of Social Work, said.
After affirmative actions laws were passed in the 1960s, several other social work schools contacted Williams offering him jobs. Williams, however, stuck by UConn.
“I said no, I wouldn’t take those jobs,” he told UConn Magazine in 2011. “UConn brought me in when they didn’t have to, and has been better to me than anybody else.”
When asked about his experience, William said in the interview. “I spent many happy years at the university […] I treasure those memories and the relationships I formed.”
Williams was born in 1922 and was raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He graduated from Howard University before joining the Army during WWII and served as a personnel sergeant major. He then received a master’s degree in social work from Boston University.
After getting his degree, Williams took a job as a medical and psychiatric social worker for the Veteran’s Administration before becoming the first psychiatric supervisor at Norwich State Hospital. He served as supervisor until he joined the UConn faculty.
His friends describe him as “cultured” and “comfortable in any setting.” An accomplished musician, he played violin and had a collection of more than 200 opera CDs. In May of 2010, Williams was one of five organ-loft singers that performed at the funeral of Lena Horne, an internationally famed singer, actress and civil rights activist.
Peter Brostek, Williams’ friend of over 40 years, said Williams was a true asset to the university and a good friend.
“He was always a joy to talk to and he always had a way of making a bad day a good one with his ever-so positive outlook on life,” Brostek said. “He was a wonderful man, the world truly has lost a treasure.”
A Memorial service will be held on Saturday, November 24, 2012 at 2:00 p.m. in Fulton-Theroux Funeral Home in Waterford, Conn.