In Memoriam: Jerome D. Williams

 

Remembering Jerome Williams, a scholar and a champion for inclusion

Recognized for his impactful research, the distinguished professor of marketing was also a revered leader of immense personal warmth.
 

Dr. Williams was kind, warm, brilliant, and giving with his wisdom and counsel. He supported OBFS in every way possible, and his belief in our organization kept me encouraged during his time as Provost and through his transition into his Distinguished Professorship. Every now and then, I would receive calls from his office asking how he could be of support. He knew the importance of fellowship amongst Black Faculty and Staff and dedicated much of his life to supporting Black professionals and Black students who had ambitions of entering academia.

I admired him and appreciated having him on the Rutgers Newark campus. He was an example of excellence that provided a model for all of us to follow. 
- Kaleena Berryman

 

Dr. Jerome Williams stood out as kind, generous with his time, and truly committed to mentoring faculty of color to break barriers and shatter glass ceilings.  

Upon my arrival to Rutgers in 2017 from another university, Jerome reached out to me and offered his support for my work and professional success.  As provost, he was transparent in his willingness to provide information about the gender and racial break downs of faculty as part of broader efforts to open doors for promotion and equal pay to women and minorities in the law school.  He did not balk when confronted with the contradictions between Rutgers-Newark’s values and its practices. To the contrary, he asked how he could help to merge the gap.   In short, Jerome didn’t just talk the talk of social justice, he walked the walk.  And Rutgers-Newark is a better and more equitable institution as a result of his leadership.  

At the inter-personal level, Jerome was a gentle soul.  His empathy and eagerness to understand your perspective showed through in each conversation with him.  His wisdom from years of experience as a change-agent had a calming effect.

In return for his many contributions to our community, I hope we will continue his legacy by walking the walk of social justice in our own deeds as faculty, staff, and students.  As we say in the Islamic faith, We belong to God and to God we will Return.  Rest in Peace Dr. Jerome Williams - you will be sorely missed.
- Sahar Aziz

 

My name is Aziza Jones, I’m a PhD candidate in the Marketing Department. I met Dr. Williams when he was the director of the PhD program and we scheduled a phone call to discuss my PhD application to Rutgers. He encouraged me to meet with him in person and visit campus, so I flew out of my hometown Illinois to Jersey, and my mother – preparing herself for her last child to move out of state – accompanied me. Now, my mother and I planned on her waiting in the lobby while Dr. Williams and I had our meeting. When Dr. Williams came down to meet me, I had the usual nerves that one might have before an initial interview, so I shakily introduced myself and my mother to him. Now, although I thought that she would wait there until we returned, Dr. Williams invited her up to the meeting with us. He didn’t want to leave her out! 

To say that my nerves were exasperated at the idea of my mother – coming along for what was essentially an interview with me – is an understatement. Nevertheless, we went upstairs to his office, and he began to ask me about myself. I answered his questions as he smiled, and when I mentioned that I mostly grew up in Illinois his eyes lit up. He mentioned that he had spent time in his youth in Illinois, and before I knew it, my mother was chiming in because she grew up Illinois too. We all gabbed about our memories of our childhoods to the point that we lost track of time. By the end of the meeting, my nerves had faded, and I was able to see Dr. Williams for who he was – a kind, open, family-oriented man who would do whatever he could to make others feel included and at home when in his care. 

Over the years, I saw how this identity guided his every move. Throughout my time at Rutgers, he did his best to make sure that not only I felt included in the broader Rutgers community, but also that other Black, Chinese, and Korean students felt at home while so far away from their families. Dr. Williams was the champion of equality and inclusion at this institution as he reached across disciplines to make sure that every student felt cared for, embraced, and loved. He would seek out those who felt alone or rejected and give them safety and comfort and inclusion.  And he had a way of forming a unique relationship with each and every one of us, inspiring us to greatness. I remember meeting with him to update him on my progress in the program, and he asked me what school I would like to go to for my first academic placement. I looked at him and said I wanted to go to a big 10 school but that would never happen. He looked at me and said “You can absolutely go there” as if there was not a doubt in his mind about it. And about 3 months ago today I received a job offer from the University of Wisconsin – Madison, a big 10 school and my alma mater. I know without a shadow of a doubt that this dream became a reality because of his encouragement, guidance, and friendship, and I am not alone in this. There are countless students who share this sentiment, and who came to and loved Rutgers because he was here – believing in us when we lost confidence, cheering for us sometimes when no one else was, and pulling a greatness out of us that we didn’t know was there.

One of the last things that Dr. Williams and I did together was to submit his nomination for me for the Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award. I was so floored that Dr. Williams , who among his many responsibilities and students inside and outside of Rutgers, saw this opportunity and took the time to nominated me. His last email to me said, and I quote: “Regardless of whether or not you received the award, you’re still tops in my book.” He also told me jokingly that for the effort, I owed he and his wife dinner. Mrs. Williams, I owe you a dinner.

This is who I knew Dr. Williams to be. A man who saw only greatness in each one of us, and who would do all that he could to make it a reality. He was a man who would inspire the most timid among us to shoot for the moon and actually land on it. I hope that each precious day that we are alive, that we embody him – that we see excellence in each other and bring it out. I challenge us to welcome others into our community just as he did so effortlessly; that we find those who have lost their way, or who don’t feel included, and show them that we believe, as Dr. Williams did, that greatness lies within them. Let’s cherish and encourage one another as the Scarlet Knights that he believed us all to be. 

We are so blessed for having met this wonderful and amazing man. A part of him will forever live on in our hearts. 
- Aziza C. Jones
 

Jerome was part of the 29 James Street family.  He temporarily stayed  in family housing when he first started working at Rutgers while he searched for a new home.  The apartment was not luxurious at all but Jerome enjoyed living on campus.  I would love to see him jog around the neighborhood in the mornings.  His positive energy was contagious.  

He will be missed and I am so glad we were neighbors.   
- Angie Bonilla

 

I had the fortunate opportunity to travel with Jerome Williams and his wife Ruth to China for the formation of the RUNIN program at Northeast Normal University.  It was a short visit for a trip to China, but the time together was inspiring.  The opportunity to meet with students excited about being a part of Rutgers University - Newark continues to motivate me in doing the work I am charged to do.  I knew him as Provost Williams when we began this trip,  By the end of the journey, they were Jerome and Ruth and it remained that way.

I started 2021 with 2 personal and family  deaths in my own family.  When I heard of Jerome's passing, it felt like I was reliving those deaths all over again.  In all of the accomplishments and accolades he achieved, earned, and deserved, I have lost a friend.

My thoughts and prayers are with Ruth and the family as they adjust to a "new normal".
- Sharon Stroye

 

In my first workshop at Rutgers Brother williams came to speak to us who are a part of the Mountainview community he welcomed us and offered his help . He was a friend to our community. He was always kind. I pray for his family in this time.
- Parish D King

 

It would always brighten my day to see you wearing your signature shirts. They were so colorful and often had a vacation like theme. While most were intense (myself included) to complete tasks, you glided through the day with ease and a calm temperament. It always signaled to me to "take a chill pill". Everything would get handled. I'll take that notion with me as I continue my journey. Thank you for your light!
- Natalia Ikheloa

 

Anytime I passed him in CLJ on campus, Provost Williams always stopped to smile.  He was always genuinely happy to say hello. 
- Ginny Caputo

As the Rutgers University – Newark community grieves our loss, we also celebrate the life of our beloved colleague, friend, teacher, mentor, and former Provost, Dr. Jerome D. Williams, Distinguished Professor and Prudential Chair in Business, and Research Director of The Center of Urban Entrepreneurship & Economic Development (CUEED) at Rutgers Business School, Newark and New Brunswick. Jerome passed away unexpectedly on Friday, January 29, having recent celebrated his 74th birthday.

A Rutgers-Newark-wide community celebration of Jerome’s life will be held virtually on Saturday, February 27, 2021, at 10 a.m.  All are invited to attend.  The link to the virtual celebration is http://go.rutgers.edu/WilliamsMemorial

The depth of impact that Jerome made as a leader at Rutgers-Newark, across Rutgers, nationally, and internationally is simply inestimable. Upon coming to Rutgers in 2010 to assume the Prudential Chair and position as research director at CUEED, he said, “My whole career has been about social justice and equity in the marketplace and serving underserved consumers.” Indeed, his curriculum vitae of more than 50 pages is a testament to that, including books, chapters, articles, reports, invited presentations around the world, and service as an expert witness in numerous trials. He surely was one of the world’s leading experts working at the intersection of diversity, discrimination, and consumer affairs.

Jerome’s immense and influential body of work established him as a leader in his field of marketing and earned him renown across the universe of business schools as an ingenious innovator and stalwart advocate for elevating the urgency of diversifying the professoriate, especially in business schools. Revered by his colleagues nationally and internationally, he served in many leadership positions at the American Marketing Association, and was serving as an associate editor of the Journal of Public Policy and Marketing at the time of his passing.

From the many pages of works that Jerome authored or co-authored a composite but exceedingly sharp picture emerges of a career at the vanguard of issues that only recently have gained a consistent presence in media headlines and in our nation’s collective consciousness. With ever-keen insight and prescience, over the course of five decades he built an overwhelming and indisputable case demonstrating discrimination in every domain of the marketplace, including food access and advertising, personal and business lending, customer service and retail surveillance, banking, and real estate, among many others. Characteristically, he was not satisfied to simply call out injustice; his work was also a clarion call that it is incumbent upon all of us to do all we can to change that.

Indeed, he dedicated his life to doing exactly that, himself. Drawing upon his personal experiences of having grown up in a segregated community, having confronted racism throughout his life, and having been the only African American in the nation to receive a Ph.D. in marketing when he graduated from the University of Colorado in 1986, he took a personal interest in advancing the careers of innumerable younger colleagues and students of color. But he also attacked this issue systemically, co-founding The Ph.D. Project in 1993, which has become one of the most important initiatives nationally to diversify the professoriate, in this case, specifically among business schools. Upon the organization’s founding, there were only 294 doctorally qualified Black, Latinx, and Indigenous business professors in all U.S. business schools. Today, there are well over a thousand, as well as hundreds currently enrolled in doctoral programs. It is no coincidence that in 2017, Rutgers Business School was cited as having among the most diverse business faculties in the nation and the most diverse faculty among institutions that are not HBCUs. For his visionary work in making these gains possible, The Ph.D. Project inducted Jerome into its hall of fame in 2014.

Jerome’s colleagues across the nation held him in similar esteem. He had just learned a few weeks before his passing that he is being inducted as a Fellow of the American Marketing Association during its national conference this month. Among the many other honors that he earned over the course of his career are: American Marketing Association Lifetime Achievement Award from the Marketing and Society Special Interest Group; American Academy of Advertising Kim Rotzoll Lifetime Achievement Award for Ethics and Social Responsibility; appointment to the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Texas Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science; and the Leaders in Faculty Diversity Award from Rutgers University. He also was appointed to the “Evaluation Advisory Committee” for the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, a CEO-led organization partnering with First Lady Michelle Obama that is dedicated to a multi-year effort designed to help reduce childhood obesity, and was a member of the Institute of Medicine Committee on Food Marketing and Diets of Children and Youth that authored a pivotal report for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention titled, “Food Marketing to Children and Youth: Threat or Opportunity?”

Prior to joining Rutgers Business School, Jerome had been the F.J. Heyne Centennial Professor, Department of Advertising, at the University of Texas at Austin, where he also held a joint appointment in the Center for African and African American Studies. Previously, he held chairs at Penn State University and Howard University, as well as visiting appointments at Wharton Business School, University of Michigan, and Georgia State University; internationally, he had taught at National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, and Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Before earning his Ph.D. from the University of Colorado, Boulder, in 1986, he had earned an M.B.A. at the University of Colorado, Denver in 1980, M.S. from Union College in Industrial Administration in 1975, and his B.A. in English from the University of Pennsylvania in 1969.

Virtually everyone who met Jerome professionally would be surprised to learn that this brilliant and courageous, yet unassuming scholar and teacher also had been a world-class athlete. A devout runner since childhood, in high school he earned all-county honors in cross country, all-county in track and field in the half-mile, two-mile relay, and triple jump, and all-state in the triple jump, earning him induction into the hall of fame at Levittown High School, outside of Philadelphia, PA. Characteristic of his drive to always improve himself, he took his athletic talent to new heights as a star and co-captain of the University of Pennsylvania’s then-vaunted track and field and cross-country teams. He would become recognized as the greatest middle-distance runner at Penn in that era, breaking the Penn mile record that had stood since the 1930's. As captain of both the Penn track and cross country teams, Jerome earned All-Ivy League honors in both, setting numerous records that remain among the best performances in their events at Penn to this day. Competing in 1968’s NCAA championships, he came within a hair’s breadth of making the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Team that would go down in history among the greatest of all time. Jerome continued to run for pleasure and competitively until a few years ago, getting out every day for more than 50 years and successfully completing 39 marathons, including qualifying for the Boston Marathon until age 61.

Jerome’s impact on every level will reverberate for many years to come. As accomplished as he was in so many dimensions, however, what most impressed those who knew him was his unfailing warmth, kindness, cheerfulness, and the personal interest he took in each person he met. Mention that you or a family member were a runner, for instance, and he would immediately ask for distances and personal bests, never forget them, and ask about them when you crossed paths again. He was so generous of spirit that he might even show up at an event to cheer.

Faith was profoundly important to Jerome, evident in his service as a Jehovah’s Witness Congregation Elder for more than three decades and in the generosity of spirit he exhibited in officiating more than 40 weddings over the years. That commitment was part and parcel of his devotion to his beloved family, whom his colleagues and friends know to have brought him such immense joy and pride over the years. The university community extends deep condolences to Jerome’s wife of 52 years, Lillian, his five children, Denean, Derek, Daniel, Dante and Dachia, his twelve grandchildren, and their families, as well as deep thanks for supporting Jerome so he could be all that he was to all of us. Those wishing to reach out to the Williams family or participate in their virtual arrangements for memorializing Jerome may do so through a memorial website that the family has established.

Rutgers community members also are invited to read and to share reflections on Jerome’s life, legacy, and impact at the In Memoriam website.

 

 


Dear Rutgers University – Newark community members,

I am heartbroken to share that our dear friend and revered colleague, Jerome D. Williams, passed away this afternoon unexpectedly. As Prudential Chair in Business at Rutgers Business School and former Provost of Rutgers-Newark, Jerome made an impact as a leader here and across Rutgers that is simply inestimable. Likewise, he was a leader in his field of marketing and renowned across the universe of business schools as an innovator and advocate regarding the urgency of diversifying the professoriate. Indeed, his impact on every level will reverberate for many years to come, as surely as his warmth, wisdom, care, and humor will reverberate among all who knew him.

With the leave of Jerome’s wife, Lillian, a friend to so many of us, we are sharing this information now as we prepare to join with Dean Lei Lei and the Rutgers Business School community in planning to memorialize Jerome more fully in the coming days and weeks. We will share further information about arrangements as it becomes available.

Our hearts are with Lillian, their children and grandchildren, and all whose lives Jerome touched as a friend, colleague, mentor, and teacher.

 

In shared sorrow,

Nancy Cantor
Chancellor

 

Tributes

Marketing Ethnic Faculty Association: https://www.mefassoc.org/dr-jerome-d-williams
American Marketing Association https://www.ama.org/2021/01/30/remembering-jerome-williams/
Race in the Marketplace Research Network https://www.rimnetwork.net/in-memoriam-to-jerome