David Williams first modern fulltime ViceChancellor University of Cambridge

For Those Who Would Lead

A tribute to a master wordsmith and leader.

Whether in companies, countries or communities, those who would lead would do well to learn from the late David Williams, my friend of a quarter century and, in a special way, a mentor to this day.

By every measure, Sir David Glyndwr Tudor Williams was a remarkable person. A distinguished scholar. A challenging author. A distinguished professor of law. An innovative president of Wolfson College, Cambridge. The first modern full-time Vice-Chancellor of the ancient University of Cambridge. A gentleman. A master of words. A person whose truest measure of greatness was and remains the humanness of his being.

David Williams loved language. He had the remarkable ability to make words fit the circumstance, whether in a lecture hall, in his office in the Old Schools, in a conversation with a University colleague, in conversation and consultation with those in government, in conversations with any of his many friends, or, most important, in the daily interplay of words with his family.

In public and in private, David Williams had the rare ability to speak in marvelously well-constructed sentences and phrases, to speak with humor, and to speak with authority. No one who ever heard his magnificent voice could mistake his seriousness, his purpose, or his lack of pretense.

Yet always at the core was the message—the words which David Williams shared, the thoughtfulness they reflected, and the inspired intellect they communicated.

"David Williams was a master teacher, because he was a master of words."

David Williams was a master teacher, because he was a master of words. And, significantly, those in the profession of law and in the storied University, of which he was the chief executive officer, have not been the only beneficiaries.

By his words and no less by his example, David Williams taught also so many people beyond the profession and beyond the University principles of civility and responsibility, principles of education and excellence, and principles of diversity and dedication.

Ultimately, David Williams celebrated life—and encouraged others by his example to celebrate life and, especially, to nurture and cherish their humanness.


This is another of a series of occasional essay by John S. McClenahen, an award-winning writer and photographer who for four decades covered international economics, public policy, and management principles for IndustryWeek and was the first Press Fellow from the United States at Wolfson College, Cambridge. This essay is in part adapted from a letter of remembrance sent to Lady Williams shortly after Sir David’s passing in the autumn of 2009.

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