News Release: University News

Feb. 13,  2009

Emory Honors Trustee Emeritus with Naming of James B. Williams Medical Education Building

From Woodruff Health Sciences Center News

Emory University’s School of Medicine building will be named for Trustee Emeritus James B. Williams, retired chairman and CEO of SunTrust Banks, Inc.

On Feb. 11, Ben Johnson, chair of the Emory University Board of Trustees, presided over the dedication of the James B. Williams Medical Education Building. 

Emory is honoring Williams’ 35 years of service on the Emory University Board of Trustees and to the University, and for his leadership on the Woodruff Health Sciences Center Board, the committee of the Board charged with governance of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center, of which the medical school is a part. He chaired the WHSC Board for more than 20 years and continued service on the board until late last year, providing key counsel to a succession of WHSC CEOs, including Charles Hatcher, MD, Michael M.E. Johns, MD, and Fred Sanfilippo, MD, PhD.

"Jimmy Williams is a remarkable leader who always carried forward the vision for Emory’s health sciences first supported by his friend and mentor Robert W. Woodruff," says Johnson. "We can think of no better way to honor Jimmy Williams than to put his name prominently on one of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center’s most transformative new buildings."

Opened last fall after its construction, the James B. Williams Medical Education Building is located on Pierce Drive, with a courtyard looking toward Emory University Hospital. The modern new building unites the historic anatomy and physiology wings, recently renamed for Charles and Peggy Evans.

The new building gave the medical school its first on-campus home, made possible the implementation of an innovative new curriculum and enabled a 15 percent increase in enrollment, helping alleviate the U.S. physician shortage projected by decade end.  

"Jimmy Williams provided visionary leadership through an era of great transformation," says Emory President James W. Wagner. "He successfully chaired Emory University’s capital campaign in the 1980s. During the next quarter of a century, he oversaw and helped secure the capital for unprecedented growth in Woodruff Health Sciences Center research, patient care and teaching, while helping steer the patient care enterprise through challenges on which many other institutions floundered."

Sanfilippo, executive vice president for health affairs and CEO of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center since 2007, says, "Jimmy Williams was deeply involved in the extensive building and renovation plan now underway along the Clifton Corridor and the Emory Midtown campus. It’s fitting that his work on this transformational project be recognized in one of the first great buildings to be completed."

Thomas J. Lawley, MD, dean of Emory’s School of Medicine says, "Naming this important facility the James B. Williams Medical Education Building is an honor for the medical school, as well as a tribute to a man whose leadership contributed to the medical school’s dramatic rise to one of the nation’s top 20 research-oriented medical schools."

Jimmy Williams graduated from Emory College in 1955. Joining the Trust Company of Georgia, he quickly rose through the ranks to become its president.

In 1979, Robert Woodruff, legendary leader of The Coca-Cola Company, made Williams a member of the Coca-Cola Board of Directors and asked him to chair Emory University’s capital campaign, to which the Emily and Ernest Woodruff Foundation had just given $105 million, then the largest gift to an educational institution in history. 

Williams had become an Emory Trustee in 1973. Now Emory effectively became his second job, even as he led the Trust Company to remarkable profitability, and then took on the expanded job as president and CEO of SunTrust Banks. In 2004, Williams received an honorary doctorate from Emory and was chosen as Trustee of the Year by Modern Healthcare and Witt/Kieffer executive search firm.

Doug Ivester, who followed Williams as chair of the Woodruff Board in 2003, describes Williams’ legacy, "one to which all of us aspire: demonstrated business acumen, exceptional organizational ability, extraordinary motivational skills and the ability to listen intently and then ask the hard questions. As Trustee Emeritus, he still does it, and we still listen."

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