ECU loses longtime supporter Walter Williams

Walter Williams ’51 ’55, one of ECU’s most loyal advocates and benefactors, died March 5. He was 88.

Williams and his wife, Marie, have been champions of ECU programs across campus and have given more than $6 million to the university. Williams was a Pirate Club member for more than 50 years, served as the executive president from 1997 to 1998 and was director emeritus until his death. He also served on the ECU board of trustees from 1995-1999.

“Walter’s longtime support and advocacy helped make ECU what it is today,” Chancellor Cecil Staton said. “He and Marie set a high bar for giving at ECU and are true examples of the impact that individuals can make in the success of our university.”

Notable donations from the Williams family include providing the Pirate Club with its first $1 million gift in 1993, which went toward renovating Minges Coliseum. As a result, the basketball arena was rededicated as Williams Arena in their honor. The Williams-Harvey Teams Building and the Smith-Williams Center (Hall of Fame) also bear their name. They most recently made a $1 million leadership commitment to support the Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium Southside Renovation Campaign.

Williams’ support extended to academics as well. He helped fund the STEPP (Supporting Transition and Education through Planning and Partnerships) program, aimed at supporting students with learning disabilities.

One of four children growing up on a tobacco farm south of Greenville, he went on to found Trade Mart, a successful chain of gas stations and convenience stores with outlets up and down the eastern seaboard. While he never hesitated to share that business success with ECU, Williams was unceasingly humble about his philanthropy. As he told East magazine in 2007: “I’m just a hard-working old man. You can’t go through life getting accolades unless you are willing to pay the price of working for those accolades.”