category: Faculty Emeriti

Craven E. Williams

Ninth President, 1976-1986

Dr. Craven E. Williams (1940-) the ninth president of Gardner- Webb University, is a native of Monroe, N.C. He received the Bachelor of Arts degree from Wake Forest University, the Master of Divinity from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and the Doctor of Ministry degree from Union Theological Seminary. Williams came to Gardner-Webb in 1976 at a time when the college had achieved senior college status, had been accredited by the Southern Association, and was ready to grow as a senior institution.

Williams’ energetic style seemed to invigorate the campus. He loved 7 a.m. meetings—a time which often was two or three hours after he had come to work. He was also known to meet with students informally at lunch to get a deeper understanding of the campus atmosphere. Within the first year of his tenure at Gardner-Webb, he was popular with students, faculty, and staff.

Soon after he assumed the presidency, Williams began to develop new programs for the growing senior college. In the fall of 1978 the adult evening program, called GOAL (Greater Opportunities for Adult Learners) and now known as the Degree Completion Program, began in three locations. Within a few years there were several hundred evening students in numerous locations. The college acquired the Davis School of Nursing in Statesville and opened a Bachelor of Science in Nursing program on campus. Finally, during Williams’ presidency, the college’s first graduate program in education began. All three programs found success and became an integral part of the University life in the years to come.

Williams believed in shared governance, and he developed ways to directly involve faculty in key decisions. The vice chair of the faculty met regularly with the senior staff. He regularly discussed new ideas and plans with the faculty’s administrative advising committee.

After leaving Gardner-Webb, Williams became the 17th President of Greensboro College in July 1993. During his tenure there, SAT scores of incoming freshmen increased 166 points, and major initiatives expanded international activities and honors programs. Over $62 million was raised for new educational programs and facilities. The endowment grew from $8 million to $38 million and over $27 million was spent on new and renovated facilities. Graduate programs in four areas of education were implemented in the summer of 2002. He retired as president at Greensboro College after 16 years of service in 2009.

Williams has been very active in his community throughout his life, serving as past President of the Old North State Council, Boy Scouts of America, and has chaired the Council Board. He received the Silver Beaver Award, the highest honor that a Boy Scout Council can bestow. He is founding president of Triad World Affairs Council and is past chair of the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce. He has served on the board of the Wesley Long Community Health Foundation and chair of the Moses Cone Health System. He chaired two successful Guilford County Bonds for Schools campaigns for a total of $500 million. He has been honored as Rotarian of the Year and awarded national recognition by the Daughters of the American Revolution for his development of the Character Education Program for Guilford County. In 1980, N.C. Governor James B. Hunt appointed him to the North Carolina Order of the Long Leaf Pine.

In 1996 he was a visiting scholar at Oxford University in England. He has actively written columns for religious publications in North Carolina, New York, Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Kentucky, and monthly columns for The Triad Business News and the Triad Business Journal. He is the author of several books on the life and times of John and Charles Wesley. Williams has been a member of the Order of Elders of the United Methodist Church. He has also served as a member of the Board of Ordained Ministry and one of 500 members of the Board of the World Methodist Council that represents 130 countries around the world. In 2006 he received the Francis Asbury Award by the N.C. Annual Conference for exceptional contributions to the church and higher education.

During his retirement years, Williams has served several churches as interim pastor. He has previously served as associate minister of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Greensboro, N.C., a 3,000-member congregation where his responsibilities included pastoral care, teaching and preaching.

In 2017, Greensboro College announced it would build and name an outdoor theatre in the honor of the former president and his wife: the Williams Terrace Theatre. 

He is married to the former Judith Campbell of Birmingham, Ala. He has a daughter, Lee, and a son, Joseph.

He continues to recall with great pleasure the wonderful people at Gardner-Webb who made his 10 years on campus so memorable.

Source: Personal Interview—Barry Hambright and Doris Banner

Updated 2015: Matt Renfer

Updated 2022: Noel T. Manning II

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