Alumnus' gift paves way for new pharmacy building

by Kalani Simpson, UNMC public relations | November 26, 2012

In the College of Pharmacy sits the Joseph D. Williams Auditorium -- the one with the name on the wall and the plaque and the bust. That's Joe Williams, WWII vet, pharmaceutical salesman, company president, proud NU alum.

He'd risen through the ranks of the pharmaceutical company Parke-Davis. After a merger, he was eventually president, then chairman and CEO of Warner-Lambert.

But he was first "fascinated" by pharmacy as a kid visiting his granddad's Pawnee City, Neb., drugstore, Williams said.

The kind of guy ...

He'd become the kind of guy they name auditoriums after at his alma mater.

The kind of guy who can start a story with: "We were in Howard Baker's office. And I said to Howard ..." This was when Baker was President Reagan's chief of staff.

It would be easy for a guy like that to forget where he came from, but he hasn't.

Education was his ticket

On a recent visit back to UNMC he said he's done what he has because he had a good background, a good education. And because he enjoyed what he did.

"I had an aptitude for it," he said. "And I liked it a lot."

He succeeded because he was a pharmacist, he said. His was a drug company that excelled at research in part because its CEO was a guy who knew the business from the ground up.

A gift of gratitude

He recently made a gift commitment of $2.5 million toward a proposed new $35 million College of Pharmacy building. The building would sit just east of the Sorrell Center, and is one of UNMC's top priorities for the University of Nebraska Foundation's Campaign for Nebraska.

When he started his career, Williams' home base was in Beatrice. By the time he retired, he had access to a corporate jet. So what did he do on his last day? He flew back to Beatrice. It looked like they were going to land on Main Street.

"It looked like a strafing run," Williams said.

That night, he had dinner with his old pals from the old days.

Exciting opportunities

Now he's long retired. He recently met with COP investigators, who were excited to meet with an alum-done-good. He was excited to hear all that they were working on.

They'll be able to do even more soon, Williams said. The new building will mean more graduates with good educations, who go on to love what they do.

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