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David Williams, Trailblazing Vanderbilt Athletic Director, Passes Away

Williams was the first African American Athletic Director at Vanderbilt and in the SEC.

Sad news to report as we learned of the passing of former Vanderbilt Athletic Director, David Williams, who died Friday at the age of 71.

Vanderbilt Athletics on Twitter

David Williams stood tall on this campus, in this city and in college athletics nationally as an incomparable leader, role model and dear friend to me and so many others. We are devastated by this loss.” – Vanderbilt Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos

Williams had a long career in education, spending a decade in the Detroit public school system between 1970 – 1980. He then went on to earn his JD from the University of Detroit Law School in 1982 and a masters in taxation from NYU Law in 1984. Prior to joining Vanderbilt, Williams was a law professor and worked in student affairs administration at the Ohio State University.

In 2000, he started at Vanderbilt with the law faculty, expanding his responsibilities over the next twelve years. Then in 2012, he was officially named vice chancellor for athletics and university affairs and athletics director.

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“The Vanderbilt family is saddened to learn of the passing of David Williams. David authored a remarkable legacy at Vanderbilt, one defined by blazing trails and championing the student-athlete,” said Malcolm Turner, who took over the reins as university AD on February 1st. “In my short time at Vanderbilt, I was fortunate to have cultivated a friendship with David, who most proudly coveted his role as a husband and father. All of Commodore Nation mourns the loss of David, and our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Gail, his four children, his six grandchildren, and his great-grandson.”


David Williams was the first African American athletic director both at Vanderbilt and in the SEC. During his tenure, the Commodores won national championships in four team sports- bowling (2x), baseball and women’s tennis. The university also took home 19 league titles and appeared in six bowl games in football.

Williams was a leader, championing both student athletes and social change. Among his many accomplishments includes the hiring of James Franklin, who was Vanderbilt’s first black coach of a major sport and the third black football coach in SEC history.

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“There are certain defining moments in a person’s life and as much as the day David hired me changed the trajectory of my life both personally and professionally, I’ll always remember today as the day I lost a father figure,” said Penn State Head Football Coach James Franklin in a statement.

Greg Sankey on Twitter

A brief statement does not begin to capture our sadness upon learning of David’s passing, nor our appreciation for all he meant to the @vucommodores and the @SEC.

“The entire SEC family is profoundly saddened to learn of the passing of David Williams. Personally, I am saddened to have lost a friend and a person who guided me in many ways,” said SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey in a statement. “David had a remarkable and lasting impact on his university and the SEC, leading Vanderbilt to Conference and NCAA championships with integrity and honor. His love for Vanderbilt’s student-athletes and support of student-athletes nationally, his steady leadership and his legacy as a trailblazer have moved the Vanderbilt community in ways that will be felt for generations. Our deepest condolences go out to Gail, his children and the entire Williams family on this day.”

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Rest in Power, David Williams.