Lew Williams was a pillar in the education community, impacting countless students and educators in Pinellas County. His altruistic spirit lives on through the Lewis Williams Education Foundation.
BY MARK PARKER, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — Lew Williams impacted the lives of countless students in Pinellas County for more than 40 years as a pillar in the education community. His family has started a foundation to make sure that impact continues for years to come.
He rose through the ranks of the Pinellas school system, holding many titles: teacher, principal, administrator, director, area superintendent, and school board member. To his son Brandon Williams, his father’s most important title was dad.
Brandon Williams said his father never talked about his many accomplishments or what he did for people when he came home; he was “focused on being the greatest dad ever.” It was not until later in life that his family began to notice the true impact that Lew Williams made on the community.
From grocery stores to weddings, random people regularly stop and take the time to explain how his father helped them and their careers.
“That was his trademark, helping people to pursue their dreams through the education system or anywhere he could help somebody,” said Brandon Williams. “He was a very caring and compassionate guy, whether it was about the children or other educators.”
Brandon Williams said that it was “humbling” and “touching” to have people come up and tell him how much his dad meant to them, especially things he would have never known because his dad did not broadcast things that went on behind closed doors. He credits some of that to how his father was raised.
Lew Williams grew up without his biological father and was the oldest of seven brothers and sisters. His shoes had holes, and his clothes were all hand-me-downs. Sometimes he would smother two pieces of bread with molasses to keep from going hungry.
He did not have much support for college, but two teachers saw potential in him. Those teachers made sure he was enrolled and paid his first year’s tuition, starting a chain reaction of people helping others achieve their education goals.
Lew Williams credited those two teachers with his decision to become an educator. If it weren’t for their help, he would have never been in a position to help others.
“I think of it as a way of him paying it forward, this altruistic pursuit,” said Brandon Williams. “He thought: ‘Those teachers did that for me, so I’m going to become an educator and do that and repeat that as many times over as possible.’”
Lew Williams passed away in 2011 at the age of 68, leaving a lasting legacy of educating area youth and helping people succeed in life. In 2019, his widow, Arthurene Williams, daughter Brandi Williams-Miller, and his son created a foundation in his name to continue building on that legacy.
The Lewis Williams Education Foundation’s (LWEF) mission is to ensure every student is college and career-ready. It promotes its namesake’s belief that every student deserves a quality education and equal access to a promising future.
The Lew Williams STRIVE Scholarship program provides high school graduates with support to access and earn the postsecondary credentials they need to transition into the workforce successfully.
The foundation recently hosted a back-to-school giveaway where it donated $20,000 worth of school supplies to Fairmont Park Elementary School in St. Pete. School faculty was invited to come to the Storage House in Gulfport and take whatever they needed, and anything leftover was given to the school to distribute throughout the year.
Brandon Williams, who is president of LWEF, said that his father served as principal of Fairmont Park and that there have been talks among the school board and school officials about renaming it to Lewis Williams Elementary. He said nothing is certain, but he “prays that it goes through.”
Renaming the school in his father’s honor could provide inspiration and motivation. Lew Williams’ dad left him at an early age; he grew up in a low-income household, had to help take care of his siblings, and still got his education. Brandon Williams has long told himself and others that “if my dad can make it, anyone can make it.”
“Just the will to succeed, and how education saved his life,” said Brandon Williams. “It’s something extremely positive, and that gives hope.
“If my father could start in those circumstances and still be successful, then there’s no excuse for how you start. You can focus on saying, ‘Hey, this is my starting line, but this is in no way an indicator of how I’m going to finish.’”
LWEF also provides tutoring and mentorship to families who need those services. Brandon Williams stressed that when someone needs help, it is immediate. Families will not have to wait for a specific time of the year.
“We’re hands-on in the community as far as helping anyone who needs help,” he noted. “Even in the day-to-day, if someone is in need, they can reach out to us.”
He said his dad would be excited to see the foundation’s work and would blush at the attention he never sought out.
“It’s a blessing to be recognized; it’s a blessing to be accounted for, especially when that’s not your reason for living,” said Brandon Williams. “You simply did it because that’s what your heart wanted to do.”
LWEF would not be successful without its community partners. They would like to thank the following people who helped to make the Fairmont Park giveaway possible:
- City Councilmember Deborah Figgs-Sanders
- Walmart Pinellas Park Store #1390 Team Lead Lakenya Haynes
- Fairmont Park Elementary Principal LaKisha Lawson
- Assistant Principal Andrew Akapnitis
- Staff of Kidz World Preschool: Kristen Peterson, Cynthia Holmes
- Volunteers: Emily Peterson, Corey Miller, Marquez Lambert
The Storage House in Gulfport deserves special thanks for allowing the foundation to host the giveaway there.
For more information on the Lewis Williams Education Foundation, please lewiswilliamsfoundation.org.
To reach Mark Parker, email firstname.lastname@example.org