A love of learning and children drove Tracy Williams Jr. and his wife to become educators.
Those two loves are the only explanation the 81-year-old can give for the success of each of his seven children.
“I haven’t done anything extra, just being available and being supportive,” Williams said of his role as a father.
All seven Williams children were honor students at Glenn Hills High School; three were valedictorian and one was salutatorian.
Two sons graduated from Yale University; all four daughters graduated from Smith College; and the youngest son, Robert Williams, graduated from Northwestern University.
“He was accepted (to Yale), but he liked to do things his way,” Williams said with a laugh.
They all earned advanced degrees and went on to careers in banking and finance, law, medicine and marketing.
“They never had really strict rules and requirements,” the eldest son, Tracy Williams III, said of his parents. “They would encourage us.”
Now Williams’ grandchildren are following in their parents’ footsteps, studying at or graduating from the likes of Northwestern, Stanford University, Wellesley College, Amherst College and Virginia Tech.
“To be a good parent, you’ve got to make sacrifices,” Williams said. “You’ve got to love your children. You’ve got to want to support them. You’ve got to be available, and you’ve got to live a good life yourself.”
Williams met his wife, Willarena, in high school at the Haines Institute. After college, they reconnected and married in 1956.
They bought an 800-square-foot house off East Boundary and began raising their family.
“People felt sorry for us,” Williams said. “They’d say, ‘Poor Willarena and Tracy. We feel sorry for them stuck down there in a small house with all of those children.’
“Now guess what they’re saying? ‘You sure are blessed.’ ”
When Williams became the assistant principal of T.W. Josey High School in 1964, his salary doubled and he moved his family to a larger house off Golden Camp Road. Today, framed portraits and snapshots of his children and 11 grandchildren fill those walls. He became the principal of Tubman Middle School in 1976 and retired in 1991.
Williams credits his wife, who died in 1999, with the children’s success. Though she was active in the community and a principal herself – she retired in 1992 after 28 years as an educator in Richmond County – Willarena insisted the family eat together every night.
Williams said he once took a second job teaching at night but quit after a week because he missed dinner with his family.
“I thought being with them was worth more than a few dollars, hearing what they talked about, their school, their friends and things like that,” he said.
Not only did he sacrifice material things to provide for his children and make time for them, but he said he also tried to live by example by being honest, positive, supportive and respectful.
A neighbor and good friend of the family, Charlotte Watkins, had seven children of her own and said she long has admired the Williamses.
“I think they’re the best parents I’ve ever known,” she said.
The couple instilled in their children a love of learning, and Williams refuses to stop learning.
He said he keeps up with technology, such as the iPad and iPhone, so he can stay in touch with his children, who now live in Washington, D.C.; New York; and Ohio.
“We hear from him once or twice every day,” Tracy Williams III said.
At least three times a year, Williams visits Washington, where all the children gather to see him.
Williams said his only regret is that his wife can’t experience their grandchildren with him.
“It’s been a wonderful adventure,” he said.