Planting a memory: UK community gathers to celebrate life of beloved former trustee


More than one hundred people gathered to honor the life of former UK trustee Russ Williams in the field behind Scovell Hall on Friday. Photo by Taylor Moak

By Taylor Moak

A Crimson King maple tree, a plaque and nearly 100 people were part of a memorial to remember a friend who died “too soon.”

On Friday afternoon, family and friends gathered behind Scovell Hall to remember UK employee Russ Williams who died after an illness on April 8, 2009.

Williams was a close friend, mentor and a brother to the members of his fraternity Phi Gamma Delta along with being a beloved colleague and a staff representative on the Board of Trustees, James Chapman said.

Chapman, a junior and former president of Phi Gamma Delta, helped plan the memorial.

President Lee Todd said he first met Williams at dinner while being interviewed by the BOT for the presidential position.

Todd said Williams’ death came too soon.

“Some things never seem right,” Todd said.

Todd said Williams worked through the final months of his life with strength and courage.

“He enjoyed life,” Todd said. “He was not short changed.”

Kimberly Wilson, associate vice president of Human Resources at UK, also spoke. She said Williams touched many lives during his 19 years at UK.

Williams was a senior training specialist and those he worked with “truly loved having him as a trainer,” Wilson said.

Williams was an employee advocate who took action to make things happen, and as the staff representative on the BOT, Wilson said Williams met with employees from  all corners of the university.

“He had the ability to relate to all people,” Wilson said. “… He truly made such an impact on all of us.”

Ed Gabe, a Phi Gamma Delta ritualist, said Williams lived by high standards.

“(Williams was) one of those wonderful people who had life right, in my opinion,” Gabe said.

Ernie Yanarella, departing faculty trustee for the BOT, said Williams’ death came too soon, but the memorial highlighted all the lives he had touched.

“The measure of his accomplishments was shown by the number of people who were out today,” Yanarella said.

Williams’ only sibling, Orthella Davis, and her husband, Hugh Davis, said the memorial provided them with closure.

The Davis’ said they never knew what Williams did for UK, but the number of people present at the memorial showed them how much he meant to the university.

“My brother was a great man,” Orthella Davis said.

Josh Pascua, a geography senior and member of Phi Gamma Delta, said the memorial was special for his fraternity brothers.

“I can’t even believe it’s been a year,” Pascua said. “It’s appropriate because Russ left a legacy not just on the university but brothers individually.”

Chapman said the memorial was a way for members of his fraternity to remember all that Williams had done for them. He said planning the memorial was a collaborative effort that began shortly after Williams’ death last April.

At the end of the ceremony, Williams’ family and friends laid flowers on a plaque that was made to honor him.

The plaque sits beneath the Crimson King maple tree planted in Williams’ memory. The purple leaves resemble the colors of his fraternity, Chapman said.

Chapman said he was humbled by the turnout and felt the event reflected what Williams had done for so many.

“(The memorial) was a proper, approving way to remember him,” Chapman said.