2011 Distinguished Service Award

Jay G. Williams, Jr. ’54This year, 2010-11, marks your 51st year of full-time teaching at Hamilton. Only Edward North, professor of Greek from 1843-1902, has exceeded this feat of longevity, and few have had such a meaningful impact on the lives and worldviews of so many students.

You followed your father Jay Williams ’23 to Hamilton and majored in English literature and philosophy. After earning your M.Div. at Union Theological Seminary, and while working on a Ph.D. at Columbia, you spent two years at the National Council of Churches before a call came to fill in “temporarily” in Hamilton’s Religion Department. Needless to say, it was a perfect fit. Throughout the next five decades, you taught more than 30 courses, ranging from The History of Western Religious Thought to The World of Zen. You chaired the Department of Religion (now Religious Studies) for more than 20 years and directed the Asian Studies Program. One former student noted, “He has the gift of combining brilliant lecture skills with intellectual engagement. He’s a great teacher as well as a supportive, approachable mentor.”

Your commitment to lifelong learning has enhanced your teaching and scholarship. You studied Chinese and Sanskrit, traveling the world to experience different cultures. “All knowledge is interrelated,” you once noted. “To know one thing is hardly knowledge unless that knowledge is somehow connected with everything else.” A prolific author, you have explored the thought of both West and East, writing about the ancient Hebrews, Jesus and Jewish history, as well as a previously unknown gospel from Tang dynasty China. In 2000, you published a biography of the biblical scholar Edward Robinson (Samuel Kirkland’s son-in-law) as well as collections of your own poetry. In addition, you have engaged generations of alumni with talks at Reunion Weekends and gallery lectures, often focused on your extensive collection of Thomas Nast illustrations. You have delighted audiences with your half-century annalist letter and the 2005 Class & Charter Day address, and have proudly witnessed your Hamilton family roots spread to four generations with your son Jay Williams III ’83 and grandson Tom Williams ’11.

As you enter a new chapter of your life as the Walcott-Bartlett Professor of Religious Studies Emeritus, the Alumni Association takes great pleasure in recognizing your many contributions with its Distinguished Service Award.

Citation presented by
Julie Ross ’84
President, Alumni Association
April 1, 2011


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