Jo Watts Williams receives Holt Award

Jo Watts Williams, who has devoted a lifetime of distinguished service to Elon University and the Burlington, N.C., community, has been selected to receive the university's top award recognizing leadership in business.

Williams currently serves as special assistant to President Leo M. Lambert and has spent nearly 40 years in various faculty and administrative positions. She accepted the Frank S. Holt, Jr. Business Leadership Award at a Feb. 21 luncheon ceremony.

Elon’s Martha and Spencer Love School of Business established the award to recognize a local citizen whose contributions to business and the community reflect the same progressive, visionary leadership exemplified by the award’s namesake. The late Frank S. Holt, Jr. was president of Holt Manufacturing Co., and an active civic leader.

A native of Anson County, Williams earned her bachelor’s degree from Elon College in 1955 and served as a public school teacher in Burlington, Concord and Alamance County for 14 years. She distinguished herself in leadership positions in several education organizations, including the North Carolina Association of Educators, before returning to her alma mater in 1969 as an instructor in the department of education and psychology.

As Williams rose through the faculty ranks at Elon, she also continued her own education, earning her master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. In 1977, she was named Elon’s associate dean of academic affairs and director of the learning resource center, which included a language laboratory, computer-assisted instruction program, tutoring and audio-visual services.

Williams became vice president of development in 1979, leading Elon through highly successful capital campaigns. During her 16-year tenure in development, alumni giving increased from 9 percent to 46 percent, and annual giving increased 92 percent. She retired from that position in 1995 and was immediately named special assistant to the president.

In addition to her work with the university, Williams has been devoted to the larger community, serving on the boards of several organizations, including Alamance Regional Medical Center; Alamance Extended Care, the Village at Brookwood; Alamance County Chamber of Commerce; Wachovia Bank & Trust Co.; United Way; The Alamance Foundation; Alamance County Habitat for Humanity; the Alamance County chapter of the North Carolina Symphony; Salvation Army; and Burlington Boys and Girls Club. She is also a ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church and was named Woman of the Year by the Burlington Civitan Club in 1982. She was named Elon’s Distinguished Alumna of the Year in 1995 and received the Elon Medallion for outstanding service to Elon in 1998.

Jo and her late husband, William Leaford Williams Jr., have been generous donors to Elon throughout the years. They have two sons, William Leaford Williams III and Dr. Randall Watts Williams, five grandchildren and two great-granddaughters.

A committee of university, civic and business leaders annually selects the recipient of the Frank S. Holt, Jr. Business Leadership Award. Past recipients of the award have included the following:

Ralph M. Holt, Jr.
D. Earl Pardue, Sr.
Dr. James B. Powell
Ernest A. Koury, Sr.
Maurice J. Koury
J. Harold Smith
James W. Maynard
C. Avery Thomas
The Gant Family
Jack R. Lindley, Sr.
Virgil L. Stadler
Thomas E. Chandler
James A. Barnwell, Jr.
Richard H. Shirley, Jr.
Sam and Vicky Hunt
James C. McGill
James R. Copland, III