Running Toward the Future
New DSU president Harry Lee Williams has never stopped moving forward.
(page 1 of 5)
Every morning—snowmageddon days included—Harry Lee Williams rises at 6:15, dons cherry-and-Columbia-blue running gear bearing the Delaware State University logo, then sets off on a four- to five-mile run. He does a loop around the DSU campus, then follows College Road to U.S. 13, where he turns left and circles back to the president’s house.
Williams never times himself, but if pressed, he will reluctantly estimate that he averages 7 ½-minute miles, which is a highly respectable time for a 45-year-old man. But he can’t help comparing it to the days—more than two decades ago—when he clipped off each mile in about five minutes.
Harry Williams runs for several reasons. It’s good exercise, of course, both physically and psychically, helping to clear his mind and prepare him for the day. But more than that, it’s a habit, almost an obsession, ingrained in him since junior high school.
And maybe, just a little, his morning jaunts are some sort of visceral, subconscious homage to what led the DSU president to where he is today. Running was his ticket out of Greenville, North Carolina.
Running won Harry Lee Williams a scholarship, making him the only child in a family of eight—seven boys and a girl—to receive a college diploma. Speed and endurance weren’t his only assets. Williams was whip-smart, affable, outgoing and unafraid of hard labor, whether in the tobacco and cucumber fields around Greenville or in the stands at East Carolina University football games, where he sold soda and popcorn.
Williams’ early years centered on school and the Sylvia Free Will Baptist Church a half block from his home. Every Sunday, Williams, his mother, his brothers and his sister, along with numerous aunts, uncles and cousins, would walk to church—“We walked everywhere,” he says. “We didn’t have a car”—arriving at 9 in the morning and staying until 2 in the afternoon. In those marathon worship sessions, he would read the Bible aloud and participate in church plays and pageants, developing his nascent public speaking skills. Through Sylvia Free Will and his large and caring extended family in Greenville, the youngster acquired a rock-solid moral grounding that led him to believe there are three keys to a meaningful life: faith, family and passion for your work. He has followed that creed ever since.
In eighth grade, Williams was recruited for the Junius H. Rose High School track team by coach Ron Hochmuth, who saw potential in the 14-year-old despite his diminutive size. Williams’ wife, Robin, who has seen pictures of her husband in high school, says she wouldn’t have dated him then. “Too skinny,” she says. Hochmuth estimates that the 5-foot-7 Williams weighed “all of 105 pounds.”
“He didn’t have a lot of physical strength or a classic stride,” says Hochmuth, “but he had a lot of guts, and he was relentless. He wouldn’t give up.”
Page 2: Running Toward the Future, continues...