The Liberty Science Center community mourns the passing of Joseph D. WiIliams, legendary pharmaceutical CEO, former trustee, and stalwart supporter of Liberty Science Center.
A native of Nebraska, Joe became fascinated by pharmacy at a young age while visiting and later working in his grandfather’s Pawnee City, Nebraska, drugstore. He attended the University of Nebraska and served in the U.S. Navy Submarine Service in World War II. After the war, Joe worked from the ground up at the pharmaceutical company Parke-Davis, eventually becoming the President and CEO. Joe credited his training as a pharmacist for his advantage over the competition when he began his career as a drug salesman. Following a merger, he was eventually named President, and then Chairman and CEO, of Warner-Lambert before retiring in 1991.
In the 1980s, when then-Governor Tom Kean announced ambitious plans for a science center in Jersey City and an arts center in Newark, there were many detractors and few supporters, especially for the science center. Traditional wisdom held that all the “big money” went to cultural institutions across the river in Manhattan, not to Jersey City. Early indications were that there was no real will to support the creation of a science center, and Governor Kean knew that without a respected business leader to spearhead the fundraising effort, the project would not come to fruition.
A passionate advocate for science and education, Joe WiIliams was one of the few to share Governor Kean’s vision. And, most importantly, Joe had the business connections to make it happen. “Executives who didn’t return my calls would talk to Joe,” Governor Kean said. “He adopted the project as his own and worked tirelessly. I would go to meetings with him, but he was the one who set them up.” Reflecting a time when CEOs had greater flexibility in their jobs, Joe personally visited corporate leaders throughout New Jersey and the tri-state area, convincing them to support the creation of Liberty Science Center. Even after LSC was built, Joe continued to visit executives to advocate on behalf of the Center. A helicopter ride to the headquarters of Eastman Kodak one afternoon led to the naming of LSC’s then iconic Kodak Dome Theater. As noted by Governor Kean, “Without Joe Williams, I seriously doubt there would be a Liberty Science Center.”
In recent years Joe, along with his wonderful wife, Millie, continued to support the work of Liberty Science Center, including the exhibitions Microbes Rule! and Making Mammoths and the planned SciTech Scity and Liberty Science Center High School. LSC’s 300-seat Joseph D. Williams Science Theater is named in Joe’s honor. Generations and future generations of students, teachers, and families owe much to Joe for his passionate advocacy of science.
All of us at LSC who were privileged to know Joe extend our deepest sympathy to Millie and promise to advance and honor his LSC legacy.