By Darlene Seto
After over 25 years working within the inner sanctum of the University of Calgary, Rhonda Williams, currently Director of the University Secretariat, is leaving. Williams, widely regarded by colleagues as an expert on university governance, is heading to the University of Alberta for the newly created position of Head of University Governance.
“It wasn’t out of dissatisfaction,” said Williams. “I wasn’t looking for anything new, but along came a challenge that seemed to really fit with what I love to do. I get to build, realign, and pull together all the strands of governance there.”
A graduate of Queen’s University, Williams is the chief planner in the governance decision-making process, providing advice and guidance on jurisdiction, strategy, policy and process, as well as routing, scheduling and flow to ensure the efficient and effective operation of the university.
She laughed modestly when told she knows all the ins and outs, and behind the scenes action at the university.
“I’ve seen a lot of things, a lot of events have happened.” Williams admitted lightly. “I think that one of the stressful times I’ve ever had was when the university gave Mr. Gorbachev an honorary degree. Right before the curtain was to come up on the presentation, [President] Murray Fraser decided that part of his speech wasn’t right, and so I ended up having to rewrite it on the spot!”
Always a professional, Williams does not discuss her struggles and conflicts over the years, focusing instead upon her love of people, and of interacting with faculty, staff, and students. Her commitment to students was established when she received the Students’ Union Presidential Citation in recognition of outstanding commitment to the students of the University of Calgary.
“I like to think I make friends easily,” Williams said, smiling graciously. “I get Christmas cards from former students, and like to keep in touch with all sorts of people.”
When asked if there is a particular president who stands out, there is no hesitation.
“Murray Fraser was an absolute mentor to me,” she admitted. “He was a compass and inspiration for the university and I learned a great deal with him on how to get things done.”
Williams’ career first began at the university in 1979, when appointed as secretary to the Board of Governors. She has since organized three Presidential Search Committees, assisted in the transition of four Board Chairs, and was also the Chief Convocation Marshal for a four-year term.
Today Williams is still a devotee of good process and good practice.
“I’ll miss it here,” she acknowledged. “I’ll miss the people the most.”
Judging from a statement from President Harvey Weingarten of her immense worth, she will be sorely missed as well.