Jay Williams, the Walcott-Bartlett Professor of Religious Studies Emeritus and Lecturer in Religious Studies
In an email to the Hamilton community on June 22, Dean of Faculty Ngoni Munemo announced the death of  Walcott-Bartlett Professor of Religion Emeritus Jay Williams ’54, P’83, GP’11, ’19. Williams was 90 years old.

Dear Faculty, Students, and Staff,

I am writing with the sad news that Walcott-Bartlett Professor of Religion Emeritus Jay Williams ’54, P’83, GP’11, ’19 died yesterday unexpectedly after a fall several weeks ago. He was 90 years old.

Jay graduated from Hamilton in 1954 with a double major in English literature and philosophy. He received a master of divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary, where he studied with Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr, and earned his Ph.D. from Columbia University.

Jay started at Hamilton in 1960 when Robert McEwen was the College’s 14th president. Throughout a career that spanned five decades, he taught more than 30 different courses. “When something interested me,” he wrote, “I went to work on it until I was knowledgeable enough to teach a course on the subject. … I traveled to the countries I taught about to understand better the culture. I very much dislike today’s emphasis on specialization,” he added. “All knowledge is inter-related. To know one thing is hardly knowledge unless that knowledge is somehow connected with everything else.”

Jay had a wide range of interests. He published two books on the philosophy of religion, a biography of the biblical scholar Edward Robinson (Samuel Kirkland’s son-in-law), collections of poetry, and a book exploring the life and work of cartoonist Thomas Nast. In 2005, he delivered the Class & Charter Day address, “The Good Old Days?,” and in 2011 the Alumni Association presented him with the Distinguished Service Award. The citation read, in part, “This 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.”

Jay retired from full-time teaching in 2012, but remained active teaching, publishing, and exhibiting from his collection of photographs and illustrations. A native of nearby Rome, where he worked on his uncle’s farm during the summer, Jay was the second of four generations to attend Hamilton. His father, Jay, graduated in 1923; his son, Jay, in 1983; and his grandson, Tom, in 2011. Hermine, his wife of 62 years, died in 2018. She was an organist and choir director for several local churches, taught part time for many years at Hamilton, and produced scholarly works in the field of musicology. Jay called her “the real scholar of the family.”

Jay was a selfless and kind man, a devoted member of the faculty for several generations, and a warm and welcome presence on campus and in the community. He gave back to Hamilton in abundant ways and will be missed greatly.


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