Walter Williams, RIP

Thursday, December 03, 2020

I was saddened to learn yesterday, from his friend and colleague Don Boudreaux, that Walter Williams has died. I have long admired Williams's work, had great respect for him as a champion of liberty, and been grateful for his efforts on behalf of freedom for all Americans.

Every tribute I have read so far has been quick to acknowledge that it cannot do justice to the man. Nevertheless, a short post by another colleague, Veronique de Rugy, captures two of the things that really stood out to me about Williams:

Walter was a great communicator of ideas and a prolific, provocative and uncompromising writer. He was the John M. Olin distinguished professor of economics at George Mason University. His voice, his happy-warrior demeanor, his cosmopolitan views, his endless fight on behalf of those with no political voices, and his generosity to all of us at Mason will be missed. [bold added]
Yes. Williams's work was always substantive and it was always benevolent, and I think it is worth contemplating why.

I recommend to Williams's fellow admirers the following three tributes: by Donald Boudreaux in the Wall Street Journal, by the editorial board of the Orange County Register, and by his friend of fifty years, Thomas Sowell. All three give testament to his dedication to the cause of liberty, which began with his own battles against racism, but continued well beyond them in scope and in time. But it is the last that gives us the most complete portrait of the man. Sowell opens as follows:
Speaking at Texas Tech University in 2013. (Image by the Free Market Institute at Texas Tech University, via Wikimedia Commons, license.)
Walter Williams loved teaching. Unlike too many other teachers today, he made it a point never to impose his opinions on his students. Those who read his syndicated newspaper columns know that he expressed his opinions boldly and unequivocally there. But not in the classroom.

Walter once said he hoped that, on the day he died, he would have taught a class that day. And that is just the way it was, when he died on Wednesday, December 2, 2020.

He was my best friend for half a century. There was no one I trusted more or whose integrity I respected more... [bold added]
The rest of Sowell's piece makes it clear that Williams was a man of integrity, whether that entailed stating truths he knew people would not want to hear, being able to defend himself, or being a good husband. Williams not only overcame injustice by standing up for American ideals, he became a successful and widely-respected advocate of those ideals. I cannot help seeing the connection between his integrity and his benevolence.

Thank you, Dr. Williams, for fighting the good fight, for setting an example we can all learn from, and, in the process, for giving us a glimpse, in your person, of a benevolent universe.

-- CAV


Nicholas Provenzo said...


And if only to contrast against the better tributes, here's a tribute by GMU's Ann Ardis, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, that's character-revealingly bad.

I wonder if all of Ardis' tributes make a point of how people disagreed with the tributes or is that something only Williams, as an advocate for the free market, merited.

Gus Van Horn said...

That was a little tribute, in more ways than one.