Dr. Frederick Dowell Williams Sr., who served as founding dean of the USC Annenberg School for Communication from 1973 to 1980, died May 29 in Houston. He was 76.
During his career, Dr. Williams authored and edited 54 books, including Reasoning with Statistics, Language and Speech, The Sounds of Children and The Communication Revolution. He served as president of the International Communication Association from 1978 to 1979.
"Fred Williams was a prolific scholar and an accomplished administrator," communication professor Peter Monge said. "He especially loved to explore the foggy, emerging, and as yet undeveloped ideas in the rapidly changing field of communication, especially communication technology. No possibilities were too obvious nor alternatives too esoteric to be unworthy of careful examination and thoughtful explication. And yet, he had a deep respect for the traditional and foundational aspects of communication as I learned in working with him over the years on Reasoning with Statistics. As the founding dean of the Annenberg School he crafted a vision for cutting-edge scholarship in information and communication technologies that remains one of the pillars of the school’s preeminent academic reputation."
Communication professor Peter Clarke said when he succeeded Williams as Annenberg’s second dean in 1981, Clarke immediately recognized what an innovative curriculum in communication management studies he had invented.
"Fred was keen on experiential learning," Clarke said. "He liked to throw students together in teams to solve problems. He insisted on self-motivated learning. And he had persuaded Ambassador Annenberg and USC to provide resources to achieve these ambitions. The School continued to grow after Fred left the helm. But I always found him a generous and inspiring colleague, never one to grouse about 'the good old days.' He taught, and did research, and wrote with undiminished energy and intelligence. When he left in a few years for the University of Texas, the Annenberg community and USC bid him good bye with genuine sadness."
Said communication professor Janet Fulk: "When I arrived at the Annenberg School in 1979, the small school — in terms of number of faculty and students — filled the large, cavernous building extremely well with high energy, lofty ideas, and the sense that the sky was the limit in what we could do if we powered ourselves into making our vision a reality. The inexorable force behind this heady, entrepreneurial culture was founding Dean Fred Williams."
From 1955 to 1961, Dr. Williams served in the U.S. Navy as a lieutenant. He toured on the USS Lenawee and taught in the ROTC program at USC. While at USC, Dr. Williams worked with The Walt Disney Company on the storyboard for “Spaceship Earth,” the iconic theme park ride at EPCOT Center in Disney World. The ride opened in 1982 and explores how human communication assisted in making advancements throughout history.
In 1991, Dr. Williams was appointed the Mary Gibbs Jones Centennial Professor of Communications at the University of Texas at Austin. He directed the Center for Research on Communication Technology and Society and received research support from regional telephone companies, AT&T and various foundations.
While in Austin, Dr. Williams was a W.W. Heath Centennial Research Fellow in the IC2 Institute. IC2 (“Innovation, Capital, Creativity”) is an interdisciplinary research unit of the University of Texas, which has advanced the theory and practice of entrepreneurial wealth creation.
In addition to consulting, he lectured on communication for the U.S. International Communication Agency and wrote several articles and books on the subject. In 1990 to 1991 he served as a Distinguished Research Fellow in the Gannett Media Research Center at Columbia University, where he conducted studies on online information services -- specifically, the transformation of the Internet from a U.S. Department of Defense development to a public telecommunications network.
He graduated from Coeur d’Alene High School in Idaho in 1951. He received a B.A. from the University of Idaho in 1955, an M.A. from USC in 1960 and a Ph.D. from USC in 1962.
His personal interests were cycling in Wales and along the California coastline, fishing and boating with his family on Lake Travis in Austin, cross-country camping trips, hiking in the early mornings, and snow skiing. He had a keen appreciation for photography, music and the performing arts, and he was a prolific writer.
He was born Aug. 14, 1933, in Longview, Wash., to parents Fred and Marie Williams. His father was an architect, and his mother was a librarian, author and published poet. Dr. Williams is survived by his six children: Frederick D. Williams Jr., Mary K. Williams, Tiffany Townsend, Robert Williams, John D. Williams, Peter A. Williams, his niece and ward Amanda Williams and five grandchildren.
A private memorial service will be held Aug. 14 in Palos Verdes Estates. In lieu of flowers, please send charitable contributions to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in memory of Dr. Frederick D. Williams.