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The right idea at the right time

Wanda and Roy Williams donate $3 million to support multiple scholarships at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Carolina basketball fans notice every move head coach Roy Williams ’72, ’73 (M.A.T.) makes — from donning retro Air Jordans in a game against Duke to uttering his latest “Roy-ism” to dancing in the locker room after a hard-won victory.

But Coach Williams’ followers may not know about the many generous donations he and Wanda Williams ’72 have made to scholarship programs and non-revenue sports over the years. That includes the couple’s $600,000 gift that funded scholarships for spring-sports seniors whose seasons were cut short by the pandemic.

For the most part, the Williamses have preferred to keep their philanthropic endeavors quiet, to support without fanfare the people and programs they hold dear. Now, to meet the urgency of the moment, Coach Williams and Wanda have made their largest one-time gift to Carolina: $3 million to support scholarships for athletes, Carolina Covenant Scholars and Chancellor’s Science Scholars. And this time, they agreed announcing the news of their generosity would hopefully inspire others to help, as well.

“The whole world is in a tough situation right now — financially, health-wise, everything you can think about. And we are in a position to be able to do something about it. It just seemed like it was the right idea at the right time,” said Coach Williams. “We hope others might be encouraged to do some things as well.”

A deliberate step forward

Of their $3 million gift, the Williamses dedicated $1.5 million to the Carolina Covenant, $1 million to Carolina Athletics to endow a scholarship in men’s basketball and $500,000 to the Chancellor’s Science Scholars program. Their transformational gift counts toward the Carolina Edge, the Campaign for Carolina’s bold commitment to raise $1 billion for scholarships and fellowships for students.

“Roy and Wanda Williams have always had a passion for Carolina, and in particular, for our students,” said Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz. “With this extremely generous and timely contribution to three areas of scholarships, they are going above and beyond to provide opportunities for our students. We are grateful for their gift and the impact it will have on the Carolina community for generations of students to come.”

With this additional $3 million gift, the Williamses have given more than $5.8 million to Carolina in the 18 years Coach Williams has been head coach of the Tar Heels. Their investment stems from personal connections and their desire to ensure a high-quality education at Carolina remains in students’ reach, especially in these challenging times.

“We realized that there were a lot of things that the University was trying to do that they weren’t going to be able to do if somebody didn’t step up and provide some funds to do that,” shared Wanda. “We started looking at what we might do in the future, what we might spread over a few years, and we thought right now is when they need it.”

A promise to eligible and exceptional scholars

The Williamses have supported the Carolina Covenant since its inception almost two decades ago. They even served as honorary co-chairs of the campaign to endow the Carolina Covenant, which provides eligible low-income scholars a debt-free path to graduation through a combination of scholarships, grants and work-study. Since the first class enrolled in 2004, the Carolina Covenant has supported more than 8,900 students whose contributions and successes are, collectively, a testament to the University’s unwavering commitment to excellence.

“The Carolina Covenant is near and dear to our hearts,” shared Wanda, who taught high school English for several years after graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill. “When Roy came to school here, his mother handed him $100 and said, ‘Have fun.’ If he had been going to school now, he would have been a Carolina Covenant Scholar.”

Coach Williams, the first in his family to attend college, didn’t grow up dreaming of college, and he certainly never imagined he’d one day be a Tar Heel.

“I came down here as a country bumpkin from the mountains of North Carolina and probably still am,” he laughed. “I was so naive about so many things, and the University helped me mature. The idea of where I would be right now if I had gone elsewhere is hard to even envision. We need to let other people have these opportunities.”

An endowment that will last generations

Wanda and Coach Williams’ personal connection to UNC Athletics is a bit more obvious.

“I’ve been on the basketball court 47 years — this is year 48. I’ve been head coach here for 18 years, 10 years as an assistant coach, five years as a student,” counted Coach Williams. “This is home and the place where we grew up. It’s a place in our hearts, and it’s a place about the people. The youngsters on my team have been the kind of young people that we always want to support.”

And when he says, “the youngsters on my team,” the three-time NCAA champion head coach means the whole team — from the most highly recruited player to the last one in the game. Every role makes the team better. It was Wanda’s idea, however, to endow a scholarship for the 13th man, the last player receiving a scholarship on the team.

“When Roy played ball here, he was on the ‘freshman team.’ It was actually a huge deal that he made that team, but there were so many freshman players that year and some really good walk-ons that he never got a chance to play varsity. He never got that particular invitation, but he would have been the last man on the bench.”

The Williamses’ son, Scott Williams ’99, did get that invitation as a walk-on at the end of the bench during his tenure at Carolina, on teams that included All-Americas Antawn Jamison and Vince Carter. Wanda and Coach Williams want to ensure opportunities like these stay in place.

“And so I said, let’s do the 13th man scholarship,” said Wanda.

“It was strictly her idea,” Coach Williams affirmed. “I wish it were mine, but she usually comes up with better ideas than I do anyway. Doing something to endow scholarships for UNC Athletics is important to us, to the future of the men’s basketball program — all of these programs have been really important to us.”

A pathway to success for the next generation of STEM scholars

The Williamses were driven to support the Chancellor’s Science Scholars program at this time when science is so important to our future.

“The lack of diversity in the science world is something we want to address here at UNC,” said the Hall of Fame coach. “Encouraging more students to get involved in science programs, I think, is something that will help us all in the future.”

The Chancellor’s Science Scholars program, housed in the College of Arts & Sciences, offers academic scholarships to encourage talented students to explore their interests in science, technology, engineering and math, ultimately strengthening the STEM workforce through diversity.

The program nurtures and supports students of all backgrounds. As a result, the retention rate for Chancellor’s Science Scholars pursuing degrees in STEM is 90%. These scholars have higher GPAs than their peers and all participate in cutting-edge research at Carolina and beyond.

The Williamses’ gift to the Chancellor’s Science Scholars program will be further amplified by a $250,000 match from the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust. Recognizing the importance of supporting these scholars, the Kenan Trust set up a challenge match for all gifts to the program.

An invitation to join the Williams team

Student-athletes, Carolina Covenant Scholars and Chancellor’s Science Scholars may take different journeys to Carolina, but every one of these students earn their place here. They all contribute to the broader mission of the University, and they are all Tar Heels.

“Anything we can do to help students through these programs is a great deal. And it’s something we encourage people to be involved with,” said Coach Williams. “Just imagine what it would be like if you don’t think you can go to the University of North Carolina and now, all of a sudden, you can. Then imagine the feeling that you would have, being able to help people like that.

“If you have the means, this is a great time to not only be involved but to have the kinds of feelings that we do and get emotionally involved in the University.”