Author: Elise Betz
On Monday, February 13, a very special gift arrived at the Sweeten Alumni House – an ebony satin, Boston Performance Edition, baby grand Steinway piano. It’s no coincidence that it arrived just in time for Valentine’s Day because the piano was a gift in honor of Penn Trustee and past Penn Alumni, President Paul C. Williams, W ’67, given with love by his sweetheart, Leslie Berger. There is a special story behind this gift – Sweeten is a “home” at Penn for Paul and a love for piano has great significance in Paul and Leslie’s relationship.
Paul was awarded Penn’s greatest honor in November, the Alumni Award of Merit. Here are a few details about Paul’s passion for Penn:
You have said that Penn’s alumni should “expect a lifetime of engagement and enrichment from their alma mater” – and you have made it your personal mission to make good on that promise. It is hard to find a corner of the Penn community you have not touched with your inspiring engagement.
Beginning as a Penn student, you embraced a commitment to giving back to the community. You were the campus coordinator for the Neighborhood Youth Corps, a tutorial project in the neighborhoods surrounding Penn and you served on the board of the Community Involvement Council. Your impulse to help others has only intensified over time and Penn has been the fortunate focus of your generosity of spirit.
You reconnected with Penn around your 25th reunion, becoming a member of the Board of Overseers for our School of Arts and Sciences in 1994 and a member of Penn’s Board of Trustees (as an Alumni Trustee) in 2000. In 2003, after you were named to the board’s Executive Committee, you participated in the Presidential Search Committee that selected President Amy Gutmann. The same year, you were elected president of Penn Alumni, representing over 290,000 Penn alumni around the world, a key leadership position you held for five years.
You have been described as someone who knows how to bring people together and to help them be their best. That is good news for all the Penn alumni who have benefited from your cheerful team building, tireless advocacy, and legendary commitment to your many volunteer roles. You have served on a long list of committees, including Academic Policy, Development, Honorary Degrees & Awards, and Neighborhood Initiatives. You have invested countless hours meeting with the leadership of Penn’s alumni diversity groups, attending their events and supporting their mission to make Penn a supportive, nurturing and academically exciting place for one and all.
Off campus, you were Penn’s ambassador in Chicago during the many years you lived there. You founded the regional advisory board, hosted and attended events, and graciously welcomed administrators, faculty and staff visiting the Windy City. You played an instrumental role in garnering support for initiatives such as the Chicago Regional Endowed Scholarship.
Your personal philanthropy is evident everywhere on campus – from your support for undergraduate scholarships, graduate fellowships and building projects, to your funding of faculty term chairs, undergraduate research grants and special projects in Kelly Writers House. You underwrote the purchase of a piano for one of the residence halls. In response to a presentation made to the Trustees by members of the Provost’s staff, you provided the funding to expand Penn’s efforts to address the problem of underage drinking on campus. A practice room in the newly renovated Music Building bears your name.
Your friends in Alumni Relations know you as the strategic thinker who identifies needs and finds ways to meet them. As a thoughtful colleague, you always remember to send birthday greetings. As a quiet deliberator, your sense of humor is both subtle and nuanced. As a good natured Penn Alumni president, you were thrilled to receive a Penn blazer with your nickname embroidered on the inside pocket, P-Dubs. In recognition of the significant contributions you have made to this University over many years, Penn is delighted to present you with the 2011 Alumni Award of Merit.
Penn will forever be indebted to Paul for his leadership and to Leslie for her unwavering support. Thank you for this extraordinary gift, a daily reminder of what is important in this world.
Watch this short video of the first person to play the piano (she found out about it through our Twitter feed!):