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Professor Ralph Williams educates and inspires in last lecture

Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 22, 2009

With a beaming smile, a booming voice and many theatrical hand gestures, English Professor Ralph Williams began his last lecture the same way he has for the past 39 years.

Students, parents, grandparents, alumni, University faculty and administrators and Ann Arbor residents who had gotten wind of the famous professor packed Rackham auditorium to full capacity Tuesday night to listen to Williams’s last lecture before retirement and to applaud his achievement in winning the Golden Apple Laureate Lifetime Achievement Award.

Each year, University students nominate a professor for The Golden Apple Teaching Award, which recognizes a professor’s teaching and dedication to students. Williams previously won the Golden Apple Teaching Award in 1992 and was nominated last month for the first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award.

Williams earned his bachelor’s degree and Ph.D. from the University. In his career, he served as the chair of the English Department, helped develop the Royal Shakespeare Company Residency program at the University and received the Excellence in Teaching Award four times along with many other awards.

While the lecture event did not begin until 7 p.m., the majority of guests began filling the foyer in Rackham Graduate School an hour early, hoping to get a seat close to the stage.

LSA senior Janell O’Keefe waited outside the entrance doors an hour and a half before the lecture. She had Williams as a professor for Religion 201 (Introduction to World Religions) and English 401 (The English Bible: Its Literary Aspects and Influences) during her freshman and sophomore years. She said Williams was one of her favorite professors throughout her four years at the University.

“He really knows his stuff,” she said. “And he’s willing to talk to you anytime and anywhere.”

LSA senior Benjamin Ruano arrived at 6 p.m. He took Williams’s World Religions class as a sophomore. Ruano said Williams still remembers his name even though he took the class two years ago.

“For him to remember most of his students’ names is really remarkable,” Ruano said.

He added that Williams “definitely merits this award for his passion and the span of his knowledge.”

Even students who never had Williams for a professor came to listen to the lecture. College of Engineering junior Alex Manwell said his sister had Williams as a professor last year and “constantly raved about him.”

“He’s just a legend on campus, so I thought it would be important to see his last lecture,” Manwell said.

Previous Golden Apple Teaching Award winners John Bacon, Jim Crowfoot, John Rubadeau and Jim Adams attended the event. Rubadeau gave a short speech before the lecture in which he jokingly begged Williams not to leave.

Lester Monts, senior vice provost of academic affairs, spoke of Williams’s impact on the University and students.

“I don’t know of anyone who is more caring about his fellow human beings than Ralph Williams,” Monts said.