OMAHA, Neb. -- The University of Nebraska Medical Center said they were gifted a large sum of money from an alumnus that died last year. 

Joe Williams’ first gift to the University of Nebraska was $10 in 1958. He was eight years out of school.

His final gift was $20 million to the UNMC College of Pharmacy.

Williams, who had an enormous impact on UNMC and its pharmacy college, died March 20, 2021, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with military honors.

UNMC said his estate gift allows the College of Pharmacy to endow its deanship; to endow a student scholarship fund and funds for faculty support which include available matching dollars to spur even more giving from the college’s supporters; it includes funds to further develop the UNMC Center for Drug Discovery; and provides unrestricted dollars which the college will use to bring its strategic initiatives to life.

“It allows the college to truly change its trajectory,” said UNMC College of Pharmacy Dean Keith Olsen, PharmD.

Williams was one of the College of Pharmacy’s greatest success stories. And, with his wife, Millie, one of its most steadfast supporters.

He worked in his grandfather’s Pawnee City, pharmacy as a kid, served in the Navy in World War II and graduated from Nebraska with a pharmacy degree. He started as a traveling salesperson and worked his way up to president of pharmaceutical giants Parke-Davis and Warner-Lambert.

Williams was a mover and shaker who shook hands with presidents, but always strove to give back. He chaired the United Negro College Fund and was a driving force behind the establishment of Liberty Science Center museum in New Jersey, Warner-Lambert’s corporate home.

It all started with $10 in 1958.

“That is somebody who is grateful for their education and is willing to give back a little piece, even when they don’t have a lot to give,” Olsen said. “I think that speaks to Joe’s overall giving spirit.”

Pharmacy students will begin receiving Williams Scholarships next fall, in amounts ranging from $2,500 to $10,000. The tuition aid will allow students to lessen debt and allow UNMC to compete for some of the nation’s top students.

“We want to give at least some dollars to just about every student that applies,” Olsen said.

The press release said with the gift, $5 million establishes the first-ever endowed deanship at UNMC. The Joseph D. Williams Endowed Deanship Fund will be especially useful to UNMC and its College of Pharmacy in retaining and recruiting future college leaders.

“When we recruit future leaders and share that they will be recognized with a named endowed position, they know that our academic medical center is serious about leading the world to create a healthier future, as our mission says,” said UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, MD. “This named and endowed deanship is a clear statement that we have the community, and leaders like Joe Williams, behind us.”

The matching dollars from Williams’ gift will help other donors extend their giving potential: “If someone says we want to start a scholarship for $100,000, we can double that and make it $200,000. Or if they say we want to fund a professorship, we can double that and possibly make it an endowed chair,” Olsen said.

Williams’ gift will enable the Center for Drug Discovery to facilitate pilot grants, equipment purchases, and core services that allow investigators to pursue other grants and potentially take their work one step closer to clinical trials. Matching funds apply here, too.

Unrestricted funds will help the college take strategic initiatives from wish list to reality.

“I can't reiterate enough, and I said this to Millie Williams when I talked to her a few weeks ago: This gift is truly transformational to the college,” Olsen said.

The gift from Williams also provides support to Only in Nebraska: A Campaign for Our University’s Future, the university’s current fundraising effort publicly announced on Nov. 18 to encourage at least 150,000 benefactors to give $3 billion to support University of Nebraska students, faculty, academic programs and research to address the needs of the state.