Paying tribute to an officer, mentor and friend

Members of the SU community remember 40-year DPS official Grant Williams during his funeral at Hendricks Chapel Saturday.

Mike Hopkins remembers trudging across a snowy Syracuse University campus as a wide-eyed freshman in 1989. Everything about the school was new to the young basketball player from California.

Then — out of nowhere — someone lent a helping hand.

As he did for countless others, Department of Public Safety official Grant Williams Jr. gave Hopkins advice and provided him with an insider’s take on the campus.

Photo: Jamie De Pould
The funeral procession for Major Grant Williams passes Crouse College on the way to Oakwood Cemetary following the memorial service at Hendricks Chapel on Saturday.

“Grant wasn’t a police officer,” said Hopkins, now an assistant basketball coach at SU. “He was a coach.  A developer of talent. A developer of people.”

This story and many more helped honor Williams' life during his funeral service at Hendricks Chapel on Saturday. Colleagues, friends, family, and SU students past and present paid tribute to his life during the two and half hour ceremony. After more than 40 years as a DPS official at SU, Williams died of cancer on Nov. 27. He was 69.

Forever known for his unwavering generosity in the campus community, Williams always looked for the best in the people.  His colleagues remember him saying, “Even if a kid is 99 percent bad, I’ll find and focus on that other one percent.”

Williams leaves a deep footprint here at SU.

“His kindness, his dedication and overall tremendous attitude toward anybody,” DPS official Joseph Shanley said. “He was a good gentleman to go to for support and help and advice. He was just a wonderful example of what it is to be a man.”

At the podium Saturday, Tom Wolfe, the dean of student affairs, struggled to pick one story to tell.  There were too many to choose from.

But one story rose above the rest in his memory.  Wolfe remembered a student protest on campus. It was Williams’ job to keep an eye on the situation.  Watching nearby, Wolfe soaked in Williams’ approach to the chaos.

Williams inched closer and closer to the students. Eventually, he was thrust into the middle of it all.  He didn’t try to break up the protest or scold anybody.  Instead, he let the students know he was there for their safety.

“He had a calm, non-threatening presence,” Wolfe said.

This approach drove Williams’ service as a DPS official.  Suresh Thiagarajan, an associate with the Evangelical Chaplaincy at Syracuse, saw Williams’ approach with students firsthand.

Williams often talked to new students at Hendricks, Thiagarajan said. With a gentle-giant approach, his unrelenting goal was to assure students that the DPS exists to help them.

“He’s a man who loved people and cared for people,” Thiagarajan said. “He was a man who lifted people up. He raised them up. He’s a man of great faith, a great visionary that helped people.”

So when DPS Chief Tony Callisto referred to Williams as a “Glimpse of God” during the funeral, Thiagarajan agreed whole-heartedly.

“That’s a true picture of him,” Thiagarajan said. “He was always an uplifting man that cared for people and gave his best.”

Whether he was inviting athletes into his office or helping mourning families deal with a death, Williams tried to touch all the lives he could.

“He had a passion for God and a compassion for people,” said Ernest Morrow, a minister at Syracuse’s Church of All Nations. “Forty years of loving and serving tirelessly. He loved all people he came into contact with.

“He welcomed students into the campus and tried to be a father, tried to be a brother. And he was such a humble, genuine man that he radiated love wherever he went.”

Hopkins grew from a player into a coach during Williams’ time at SU. He’s one of countless athletes who went to Williams for advice. Hours before Syracuse’s basketball game against Maine on Saturday, Hopkins rattled off the names of former players who Williams helped — Jonny Flynn, Jason Hart and Derrick Coleman, among others.

Williams was always there, always ready to reinforce the positive.

Toward the end of Hopkins’ speech, tears began dripping out. He looked down at Williams’ casket and managed to say one more thing.

“You will be missed.”

Tributes to Major Grant Williams

Share your favorite memories, plus see more photos of Williams' career and life at SU.

Chancellor Nany Cantor greets the family of Department of Public Safety Major Grant Williams, Jr. as they arrive with the funeral procession Saturday morning. Major Williams was a 40-year veteran of the university police.

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