English professor left enduring imprint at Pacific

John Williams

John Williams, a professor of English with a booming voice who instilled in his students an appreciation for southern literature, died on July 23 at the age of 87.

His 33 years (1965-1998) at University of the Pacific were divided between Raymond College and the English Department in the College of the Pacific. Under both schools, he was an internationally recognized scholar on the works of Mississippi-based author William Faulkner.

“He was an extremely well-educated person and active in interdisciplinary studies,” said former Dean of the College of the Pacific Robert Benedetti. “He was so learned about Faulkner, whose work can be a difficult read for many. John got his students to embrace those studies.”

Williams cherished his work in Raymond College, one of Pacific’s cluster colleges, with its stated mission to bring bright students and professors together in an academic community to study, discuss, research, argue and write. He moved into the English Department when Raymond College phased out, a process that started in 1977.

“Others taught at Raymond and were loved and admired. John was the one who decided those friendships and memories were life-long.” — former student Wendi Maxwell '71 

“He was beloved by the Raymond faculty and students. He also was very supportive of me with the Department of English. All the cluster colleges were gone, but John joined me in working on general education reform,” Benedetti said. “He was a very strong leader.”

Williams was born in Villisca, Iowa, March 6, 1936, the third of four sons to Paul and Pauline Williams. He grew up working on a farm and attended school in a one-room country schoolhouse. Alumna Janet Peterson ’75 lived down the street and they fell in love and married in June 1956. They recently celebrated 67 years of marriage.

Williams graduated from Cornell College in Iowa and went on to Harvard and then University of Chicago for his doctorate.

He often rode his bike to the Stockton Campus, where he had a powerful persona in and out of the classroom. Pacific alumna Wendi Maxwell ’71 who attended Raymond College reflected on her former teacher and lifetime friend.

“Others taught at Raymond and were loved and admired. John was the one who decided those friendships and memories were life-long,” Maxwell said.

Williams and Janet participated in many local causes including supporting political candidates and school integration, volunteering with Stockton libraries and serving on the board for St. Mary’s Dining Room, which provides meals, health care and other services to the homeless and impoverished in Stockton. 

Retirement was filled with children and grandchildren and their activities. For his sons, he rarely missed a basketball or football game and for his seven grandchildren he rarely missed a soccer, football, or basketball game, track meet, dance recital, school play or a graduation. 

Williams is survived by his wife Janet Marie Williams and his three sons and three daughters-in-law, Michael and Margaret, Howard and Monica and Marvin and Debbie and seven grandchildren. 

A Celebration of Life will be held Aug. 13 at 2 p.m. in the President’s Room at University of the Pacific.