Richard D. Williams, M.D. ’39
Leaves $7.2 Million to Muhlenberg
Largest Alumni Gift in College’s History Will Be Used to
April 26, 2008
When Richard “Doc” Williams entered Muhlenberg College in 1935, he had an incentive for wanting to work hard to become a doctor – a stint working at a lamp factory in Slatington, Pa., where he was born and raised.
“Doc hated working at that lamp factory,” says friend and retired nurse Geraldine “Jerry” Christman. “He got a 50% scholarship to attend Muhlenberg and hitchhiked to class every day. He told me he would go straight home and get to his books after class. I used to tease him ‘You were afraid the lamp factory was going to get you!’”
Doc graduated from Muhlenberg in 1939, attended Hahnemann University Medical School and went on to become a physician in nearby Palmerton, where he practiced for more than 40 years. In those days, says Jerry, a doctor did everything from delivering babies to treating kids, adults and the elderly. “Things weren’t specialized the way they are now. He did it all.”
Doc Williams retired in 1985 to Lake Worth, Florida and passed away on January 30, 2007 at the age of 91. While knowing that Doc had made a provision to endow student scholarships at Muhlenberg, the extent of his gift was not known until recently. The estate put an approximate value on that bequest: $7.2 million – the largest gift ever made by an individual in the history of the College.
Because of its size, the gift will enable about 20 students to attend the College each year. “Doc would have been so proud,” says Jerry. “He would have bragged about how many kids he was able to help.”
“The timing of this grand bequest – coming just as the Muhlenberg family has publicly launched a campaign focused on scholarships for talented but needy students – could not be more fitting,” says Muhlenberg President Randy Helm. “Doc Williams exemplified Muhlenberg’s mission by leading a life of leadership and service. Now his legacy will provide access to Muhlenberg for countless generations of students. We are humbled by his achievements and his generosity.”
In addition to the gift he left to Muhlenberg, Doc Williams also remembered both the high schools and the libraries in Slatington and Palmerton through a foundation he set up. Each year, the high schools will pick one student to receive a full scholarship to attend the college of their choice and the libraries will also receive support.
“Doc was down-to-earth and liked to make jokes with children,” remembers Jerry fondly. “He used to call himself a ‘poor little country doctor.’ He didn’t make his fortune as a physician – although he did well – but he made some very good investments.”
“He never forgot that lamp factory. Or that he received a scholarship to attend Muhlenberg. That’s one of the reasons he made the gift,” says Jerry. He wanted to give others the chance that had been given to him.”
Please note: The College regrets that Doc Williams’ brother, David O. Williams ’44, of Allentown, passed away April 8, 2008, just prior to the announcement of the gift.