February 18, 2016
DALLAS (SMU) — R. Hal Williams was a master teacher who inspired generations of SMU students as a professor and chair of the University’s Department of History. He served as an academic leader as dean of Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences and later as dean of research and graduate studies. He died Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016, after a brief illness.
Dr. Williams came to SMU from the faculty of Yale University in 1975. He joined SMU as a full professor and chair of the Department of History.
In 1980, while continuing to teach and publish, he became dean of The College, now called Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, a position he held until 1988.
When Robert H. and Nancy Dedman gave a $25 million naming gift to The College in 1981, Dr. Williams helped raise additional funding for faculty development, undergraduate and graduate student scholarships, facilities renovation and other needs. He also helped guide the University’s Common Educational Experience, now called the University Curriculum, a course of study required of all SMU undergraduates.
In addition, Dr. Williams served as SMU dean of research and graduate studies from 2004 to 2007. He retired as professor emeritus of history in 2011.
His academic specialty was 19th-century U.S. political history with a special focus on California political history. He wrote or co-wrote several books, including The Democratic Party and California Politics, 1880–1896; Years of Decision: American Politics in the 1890s; Realigning America: McKinley, Bryan and the Remarkable Election of 1896; and The Manhattan Project: A Documentary Introduction to the Atomic Age.
He guided the teaching of high school history nationwide as a co-author of the seminal two-volume textbook America: Past and Present (with Robert A. Divine, T. H. Breen and George M. Fredrickson), now in its10th edition.
His articles and reviews were published in journals including the American Historical Review, the Journal of American History, Agricultural History, the Pacific Historical Review, the Western Historical Quarterly and Presidential Studies Quarterly, among many more. He also wrote chapters published in The Gilded Age, American National Biography and The Encyclopedia of the United States Congress, among others.
Dr. Williams received numerous awards and research grants from the American Philosophical Society and the National Endowment for the Humanities, among others.
Beyond campus, he was a member of the Texas Committee for the Humanities from 1982 to 1989, serving as vice president from 1986-88. He served as an adviser to Leadership Dallas and was chair of the Dallas Museum of Arts’ Committee on Scholarship from 1984 to 1986. He was a member of the Dallas Landmark Committee and the Executive Committee of the Texas Humanities Resource Center. He also served as executive vice president of the Historic Preservation League and on the boards of the Everette L. DeGolyer Foundation, the George F. and Ora N. Arnold Foundation, the John E. Owens Memorial Foundation, and the Dallas County Heritage Society.
His service to SMU included chairing the Final Review Committee for the University’s accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. He also served on the University Planning Council, the Presidential Task Force on the Quality of Academic Life, and the Dedman College Graduate Council. In addition, he served as director of the graduate program in History, as a trustee of SMU’s Institute for the Study of Earth and Man, and as president of Friends of the SMU Libraries.
Born in Beeville, Tex. on Oct. 7, 1941, Dr. Williams earned his bachelor’s degree in history from Princeton University in 1963, where he graduated as a member of Phi Beta Kappa national honor society. He earned his master’s and Ph.D. degrees from Yale University in 1964 and 1968, respectively. He was named one of Yale’s 10 Best Teachers in 1973 and 1974.
At SMU his honors for teaching and service included Outstanding Professor Awards in 1977, 1979 and 1994; the 1980-81 Willis M. Tate Award for outstanding service to the University community; the HOPE (Honoring Our Professors' Excellence) Award in 1999, 2002, 2003; and Outstanding Faculty Awards from the SMU Student Senate and SMU Interfraternity Council in 2001. In 2001 he also received the “M” Award, SMU’s highest honor for service to the University. He was named Faculty Member of the Year in 2004-05. He also received the Perrine Prize from SMU’s chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.
Dr. Williams is survived by his wife, Linda, of Dallas; daughter, Lise, of Dallas; son, Scott, daughter-in-law, Lori, and grandchildren Ella, Tommy and Lucy of Peoria, Ill.; and a sister, Patty Irish,, of Palo Alto, Calif.
Memorial contributions can be made to the SMU Scholarship Fund, Office of Development, P.O. Box 750402, Dallas, TX 75275.
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