Former Principal Ron Williams attends a groundbreaking for the Soil Erosion Lab
Former Principal Ron Williams (in hard hat, on right) attends a groundbreaking for the Soil Erosion Lab in May 1988. (U of T Archives)
Thursday, July 16 - 2020
Donna Paris

Former Principal Ron WilliamsThe U of T Scarborough community is mourning the loss of George Ronald (Ron) Williams, former Principal, UTSC, and Professor Emeritus, Department of Biochemistry and Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Toronto, who passed away recently. Williams was the sixth Principal of Scarborough College, from 1984 to 1989.

“I was chair of what then was the Division of Humanities when Ron was Principal,” says Wayne Dowler, Professor Emeritus, U of T. “I still feel the warmth, congeniality and sense of cooperative enterprise that he fostered.”

Williams cared deeply about the college. 

“He was generous in giving it his attention,” says Eleanor Irwin, Associate Professor Emerita of U of T Scarborough. “He amazed me with his shrewd knowledge of all the faculty.” When someone was needed to serve on a committee, she says, Williams would go down the list of faculty and identify the right person with suitable interests and abilities.”

Joan Foley, Williams’s immediate predecessor as principal, says Williams cared for students as much as faculty. “While promoting research and scholarship as Principal, he was also a strong advocate for students, particularly supporting their need for a student centre,” she says. This support was essential to the eventual construction of the Student Centre in 2004.

Born in Liverpool, England in 1920, he attended Merchant Taylors’ School, eventually earned his PhD from the University of Liverpool and postgraduate work at the Universities of Toronto, Pennsylvania, and Oxford. He became a faculty member at University of Toronto in the 1950s.

Williams chaired the Department of Biochemistry from 1970 to 1977, growing the department and creating an environment to help students to flourish and research to thrive. 

“Ron Williams was a dear and lovely man, always positive, interested in all the world has to offer,” says Paul Gooch, Chair, Division of Humanities, 1977-1982. “He had the mind of a scientist and the heart of a humanist.”

The University of Toronto Scarborough community is saddened by Prof. Ron Williams’ passing. While he is no longer with us, we will continue to cherish his many contributions to our campus and to our institution, as a scholar and a leader. These are indelibly imprinted in the history of this campus, because the foundation that he laid, with his vision and through his accomplishments as Principal, has enabled us to become the campus that we are today, and for that we remain very grateful.
- Principal Wisdom Tettey, U of T Scarborough

Under Williams’ watch, undergraduate instruction in biochemistry for Arts and Science students was expanded to include students in disciplines other than biochemistry, as well as larger numbers of biochemistry specialist students. In fact, during his tenure as chair, on three occasions, members of the department received Canadian Biochemical Society Ayerst (Merck-Frosst) awards. Williams combined his passion for biochemistry with concern for the environment and, in 1996, he published The Molecular Biology of Gaia, about the stability of the Earth’s environment.

 “He had a wide appreciation of the academic subjects offered at the college and was particularly supportive of the performing arts. He attended college concerts, plays, and art exhibitions,” says Irwin.

Williams’ devotion to the campus continued even after his retirement. He maintained contact with many of his former colleagues, both those at Scarborough campus and elsewhere at the university.

Williams and his wife, Joyce, raised three children; Geoff, Glynis, and Tim. He was grandfather to Jeremy, Dave, and Jano, and great-grandfather to Nia and Lila.

To coincide with a private memorial ceremony for family and friends, the University of Toronto flag will be lowered to half-mast on all three campuses on Friday, July 17, 2020.