College of Pharmacy hosts Millie Williams, a namesake, supporter and friend

During her visit to UNMC, Millie Williams met with several of the newly named and newly funded Williams Scholars.
During her visit to UNMC, Millie Williams met with several of the newly named and newly funded Williams Scholars. Photo courtesy of Rich Watson/UNMC Strategic Communications

By Kalani Simpson, UNMC Strategic Communications

UNMC, the College of Pharmacy and the University of Nebraska Foundation recently hosted a thank-you celebration honoring one of pharmacy’s greatest friends and supporters, Millie Williams.

Williams, with her late husband, Joe, is the namesake of the Joseph D. and Millie E. Williams Science Hall. The couple also were among the principal benefactors of the UNMC Center for Drug Discovery and Lozier Center for Pharmacy Sciences and Education.

Joe Williams, a pharmacy alumnus, who died in 2021 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery, was a towering figure in the pharmaceutical industry, having led industry giants Parke-Davis and Warner-Lambert.

“He gave the University of Nebraska tremendous credit that he was able to land his first job at the largest pharmaceutical company in the country,” Millie Williams said. “He never forgot that.”

For decades, the Williamses strove to give back to UNMC’s College of Pharmacy, meeting students, taking an interest in faculty, and befriending every dean. The Williams name is found throughout the new and former pharmacy buildings. Joe was a driving force behind the college’s first endowed faculty chair, the Parke-Davis Chair in Pharmaceutics, currently held by David Oupicky, PhD.

Then, Joe left the college an estate gift of $20 million, through the foundation’s Only in Nebraska: A Campaign for Our University’s Future fundraising campaign.

The transformational donation “allows the college to truly change its trajectory,” said Keith Olsen, PharmD, Joseph D. Williams Endowed Dean of the UNMC College of Pharmacy.

“It’s going to impact students for decades by reducing their financial burden from going to school. And the impact on students has another positive effect,” Dr. Olsen said. “Students go to school here to learn how to take care of patients, and patients are going to be the ultimate recipients of that gift.”

Joe and Millie’s gift endowed the College of Pharmacy deanship in Joe’s name, established a fund to be used to match commitments from other donors to establish new endowed funds for the college, established a permanent endowment fund that can be used for any purpose in support of the college with initial support for scholarships, and also supported construction and ongoing maintenance costs for the UNMC Center for Drug Discovery and the Lozier Center for Pharmacy Sciences and Education that opened in 2016.

Millie Williams’ recent visit was the first opportunity for an in-person thank you.

She was emotional in meeting several of the newly named and newly funded Williams Scholars. “Oh, my gosh, I was overwhelmed,” Millie Williams said. “It was such a great experience. I wish Joe could have experienced it.”

She loved that each Williams Scholar she met showed great enthusiasm in undertaking “a new adventure,” in attending pharmacy school, the way Joe did long ago.

“I admire the way they are making his dream come true,” she said.

Millie Williams, and Joe’s granddaughter, Kelly Gillis, took a complete tour of the medical center, visiting not just the College of Pharmacy, but also:

  • the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center, including the Chihuly Sanctuary;
  • the Davis Global Center; and
  • the Wigton Heritage Center and McGoogan Library.

That evening a reception was held featuring faculty and staff, Williams Scholars, UNMC leadership and others.

The celebration was especially meaningful to the faculty, staff and students of the College of Pharmacy: “I don’t know how often you get to say thank you for a gift like this,” said Donald Klepser, PhD, senior associate dean for academic affairs.

As the college tour went past his office, Christopher Shaffer, PharmD, PhD, associate dean for student affairs and justice, equity, diversity and inclusion, made sure to say hi one more time.

“Thanks again for everything!” he said.

The visit also was meaningful to Millie Williams, who has seen the college grow through the decades. Joe’s mission, she said, was always to give back. As she reflected on the present, and the future, of the College of Pharmacy, she said, “He has indeed accomplished that.”


“My most sincere gratitude to Millie, Joe and your family for all that you’ve done for this community. It sends an incredibly powerful message to our students, our staff, our alumni, frankly to the broader philanthropic and business communities that support us, including the Legislature, to say that our alumni who have the capabilities to support this great campus and this great university are willing to do so, and they’re willing to do so in a way that is truly transformational.”

UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, MD

“I think of Joe Williams as an Only in Nebraska story. Joe Williams started as a student, like so many others at the University of Nebraska, then entered his field and rose to the top heights of the pharmaceutical industry. Joe never, ever forgot where he came from. Throughout his life, Joe gave of his time to share his enormous expertise. He made generous gifts, and then he and Millie made the ultimate gift, an estate gift that will change the lives of students, faculty, research and this institution for years to come.”

Brian Hastings, president and CEO, University of Nebraska Foundation

“We at the College of Pharmacy have always been grateful to Millie and Joe for their support, but more so for their friendship. It was such a treat to have Millie and Kelly here in person, to thank them, and to show them all the things that the Williams gifts are helping make possible, including the bright futures of our Williams Scholars. We look forward to having Millie back with us any time she likes.”

Keith Olsen, PharmD, Joseph D. Williams Endowed Dean of the UNMC College of Pharmacy