Joe Williams — ‘a true only in Nebraska story’ — leaves $20 million gift to UNMC

Pawnee City native rose to top of pharmaceutical firm

By: - December 23, 2022 4:00 am
williams science hall at UNMC

UNMC science hall named after Joe and Millie Williams. (Courtesy of Kent Sievers/UNMC)

OMAHA — A new scholarship fund offering up to $10,000 in tuition aid to individual pharmacy students at the University of Nebraska Medical Center is among initiatives made possible through a newly announced $20 million donor gift.

Joe Williams, described by Omaha-based UNMC as one of the College of Pharmacy’s greatest success stories, has directed the funds to his alma mater.

Joe and Millie Williams. (Courtesy of University of Nebraska Medical Center)

With a career start as a traveling salesperson, Williams, who died last year at age 94, worked his way to president and CEO of pharmaceutical giants Parke-Davis and Warner-Lambert.

In addition to the scholarships, his estate gift allows the College of Pharmacy to endow a  deanship, provide faculty support and further develop the UNMC Center for Drug Discovery. It  also includes unrestricted dollars for strategic initiatives.

‘Transformational gift’

“This gift is truly transformational to the college,” said UNMC’s College of Pharmacy Dean Keith Olsen. 

Olsen said he recently told Williams’ wife, Millie, that the donation “allows the college to truly change its trajectory.”

Jeffrey Gold, M.D., UNMC chancellor  (Courtesy of the University of Nebraska Medical Center)

Students are to start receiving Williams Scholarships next fall in amounts ranging from $2,500 to $10,000. UNMC expects it to lessen student debt and allow the college to compete for top students.

“We want to give some dollars to just about every student that applies,” Olsen said.

The first-ever endowed deanship at UNMC, also a result of the gift, is expected to help retain and recruit college administrators, said Chancellor Jeffrey Gold.

“This named and endowed deanship is a clear statement that we have the community, and leaders like Joe Williams, behind us,” Gold said.

‘Great American story’

Gold called Williams’ journey a “great American story” and “a true ‘Only in Nebraska’ story.” 

The Joseph D. & Millie E. Williams Science Hall (Courtesy of Kent Sievers/UNMC)

Williams’ connection to his field started back when he was a kid and worked in his grandfather’s pharmacy in Pawnee City. The Nebraska native served in the Navy in World War II and graduated from the UNMC College of Pharmacy in 1950.

He was a driving force behind establishment of the Liberty Science Center museum in New Jersey, Warner-Lambert’s corporate home. He chaired the United Negro College Fund.

The American Pharmacists Association Foundation Library is named in his honor, as is the Joseph D. and Millie E. Williams Science Hall on UNMC’s Omaha campus. Williams was awarded the profession’s highest honor, the Remington Honor Medal, which is on display at the UNMC College of Pharmacy.

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Cindy Gonzalez
Cindy Gonzalez

Senior Reporter Cindy Gonzalez, an Omaha native, has more than 35 years of experience, largely at the Omaha World-Herald. Her coverage areas have included business and real estate development; regional reporting; immigration, demographics and diverse communities; and City Hall and local politics. She has won awards from organizations including Great Plains Journalism, the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing (SABEW) and the Associated Press. Cindy has been recognized by various nonprofits for community contributions and diversity efforts. She chairs the board that oversees the local university’s student newspaper.

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