Richard “Stick” and Teresa Williams
Richard “Stick” and Teresa Williams have achieved positions of North Carolina leadership unmatched by any other husband and wife.
Yet they don’t see themselves as a Tarheel power couple. Stick describes himself as “a reluctant leader,” while Teresa insists she is simply being a “servant.”
The truth, however, is that the Williamses are the first couple to each serve as chair of the Board of Trustees of a University of North Carolina institution – Stick at UNC Chapel Hill and Teresa at Western Carolina University.
In addition, both have served as chair of the UNC-CH General Alumni Association, continuing a commitment to service which both see as returning the investment that many others made in them.
Their passion for serving in higher education leadership comes from their belief in a UNC System that prepares “the common people” to become stellar citizens. “And we are the common people,” Stick says.
For Stick, the investor was Dr. Jim Maultsby, a white physician who treated him for a football injury when he was in high school in Greensboro. The youngster had been accepted to UNC-CH, but did not consider attending the school to be a realistic option until Maultsby took him to Chapel Hill to meet the coaches.
“He took a personal interest in me,” Stick remembers. “That had an impact. It mattered.”
Enrolling at UNC-CH, he gave up his dreams of a professional football career after a knee injury his freshman year. He graduated in 1975 with an accounting degree and soon began a career with Duke Energy that would span more than three decades. Beginning as a financial analyst, he soon moved into the investor relations and community relations areas, eventually becoming one of the company’s most senior executives.
Before his retirement in 2015, he led the Duke Energy Foundation, the company’s philanthropy arm, which distributes more than $26 million in contributions annually to non-profits. Of all the jobs he had at Duke during his 36-year tenure, Stick cites his last position as his favorite because it offered a chance “to shape the company’s philanthropy.”
He joined the UNC-CH trustees in 1999 and served for eight years. He was elected chairman in 2003, the first African American to hold the position, telling the board “I love this university, and I intend to serve it with everything that I’ve got.”
Like her husband, Teresa, too, credits much of her success to those in her community and family who surrounded her during her formative years growing up in High Point.
“None of them had college degrees,” Teresa said, “But they pushed me and demanded more of me. They saw something in me that I couldn’t see in myself.”
She attended UNC-CH and graduated in 1977 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and psychology.
While attending UNC-CH, Stick and Teresa met through their participation in a Christian fellowship on campus. They began dating in December of 1975, just before Stick graduated. The couple married a month after Teresa graduated.
Initially, Teresa concentrated her public service at a grassroots level. She was appointed to the Mecklenburg County School Building Solutions Committee, examining critical facility needs of Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools. She was elected to the Chapel Hill- Carrboro City Schools Board of Education, serving from 1999-2002, including two years as vice chairwoman.
In 2007, she was appointed to the WCU Board of Trustees, where she would serve for eight years, including two years as secretary and two as vice chair. She was elected chairwoman in 2013, the first female African American to hold the post, and served for two years during a time of unprecedented growth for the institution.
In addition to mentoring new board members, she quickly developed a reputation for continually bringing new ideas intended, she said, to help the university turn out “prepared, committed, and inquisitive” graduates who can “create and enhance community.” One of those ideas was the creation of a Board of Visitors, which engages the community as advisors to the chancellor and ambassadors for the university.
Although retired from the business world, Stick remains actively engaged in community service. Currently, he is excited about his work with Project LIFT, a public-private partnership that works to increase graduation rates in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System.
In 2015, just as she was wrapping up her time on the WCU Board of Trustees, Teresa was elected chairwoman of the UNC-CH General Alumni Association Board of Directors, an opportunity that will allow her to continue working for the betterment of higher education in North Carolina.
When asked what motivates them to continue serving, Stick begins, “It’s not about making a living,” and Teresa finishes: “It’s about making a life.”
Author: Joshua Wilkey