Remembering George W. Williams IV
By Daniel Ravenel
George W. Williams IV. Image from Charleston Mercury archives.
I am honored to offer a few words about a Lowcountry cultural giant who left us this winter: George W. Williams IV. Born the son of Ellison Adger Williams and Elizabeth (Simonton) Dillingham Williams on October 10, 1922, George was educated in the public schools of Charleston, followed by one year at Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Va., before entering Yale University with the class of 1944. His college program was interrupted after his junior year when he returned home to await his call for service.
After basic training in Texas, he was transferred to the University of Pittsburgh, where he learned Russian. He was deployed with the 95th Infantry Division, Third Army, in France and Germany and then transferred to the Third Tank Destroyer Group. After the war, he resumed his senior year at Yale, graduating in 1947. Then, he was off to graduate school at the University of Virginia (1949-1951) where he earned an M.A After some years working at the Carolina Savings Bank, a family tradition, he returned to graduate work at Virginia, 1954-57, earning a doctoral degree in Shakespeare Studies.
He married his devoted wife, Harriet Porcher (Simons) Williams, in 1953. They have three children — George Walton; Ellison Adger and his wife, Evelyn Hart; and Harriet Porcher Stoney Williams and her husband, Peter Askin — and two grandchildren, Elizabeth Simonton Williams II and Samuel Riley Williams.
In Charleston we are fortunate to have in our midst gentlemen (and ladies) who quietly lead our community on a number of levels. When they come through our lives, recognition is due. George is one such man who quietly passed by, and because he was 99 years old at the time of his death this past February 25, few contemporaries were there to comment.
George was much to many. To the members of the Piping and Marching Society of Lower Chalmers Street, George was a founder, a source of the best information our little group had. Like the other nine original members, George had been in combat in France and Germany and seen terrible sights of war, making polite Charleston cocktail conversation a bit irrelevant. The group, chaired by the headmaster of Gaud School for Boys, Berkeley Grimball, began meeting in 1950 on a monthly basis at the Pink House on the south side of Chalmers Street where it stands today. The chair is called “The Keeper of the Key.” Each piper made presentations each month in turn on topics of interest or just for entertainment.
George enjoyed the society until he went to Durham, N.C., in 1955 to teach English. After the move George would occasionally come to meetings and join in the discussions. His story is in this obituary but there was a great deal more than the dates and accomplishments. His students loved this “Mr. Chips” character and his Shakespearean expertise, and the student body voted him their favorite professor at Duke. He loved his Episcopal church and devoted some of his earliest professional days to writing a history of St. Michael’s Church in 1951, which was updated some five decades later.
Dan Beaman, author of Colonial Carolina Anglican Bell Towers and Bells, gives great credit to George for creating interest in “change ringing” of St. Michael’s bells. I have learned that change ringing is pealing the bells by hand. Beaman called George his inspiration.
The bells inspired George to write Of Mice and Bells in 2009, which was a children’s story about the great victory at the Battle of Sullivan’s Island, which we celebrate as Carolina Day.
So now when the bells of St. Michael’s play their tune as they did at 6:20 a.m. on Easter morning, I will remember my friend George Williams and his kindness and intellect.
George is survived by his wife, Harriet, and all his children and grandchildren.