A Favorite Professor

by Toni Cilek, University of Iowa

I had the very good fortune to know and work with Dean Williams for most of the past 20 years, first as a student in speech pathology and then as a clinical instructor working at the University of Iowa. Across his career, Dean had an immeasurable impact on the field of stuttering through his roles as a teacher, scholar, and clinician. For myself, he was also a wonderful friend and mentor; someone I affectionately referred to and will remember as one of my most favorite people in the world.

As a teacher, Dr. Williams was a "favorite professor" to countless students, and I was certainly included in that group. Time and time again he would receive special appreciation notes from students thanking him for his support and encouragemeni during their university training. As students, we loved to hear stories about the "olden days" and his historical perspective on the field, including the time he spent with Wendell Johnson. I recall specifically his lecture on the dominance theory of stuttering, during which he shared memories of spending an entire summer with his right arm in a cast. The class was most impressed, though, when he then went to the chalkboard to demonstrate his skill at writing his name with the same quality of handwriting using his right hand and his left hand! In his teaching, Dr. Williams' instruction provided the framework for making clinical decisions, tying together theories and observations in a meaningful way. He taught through lectures and discussion as well as demonstration and modeling. Dr. Williams always emphasized the importance of working with the "whole" person, not just focusing on the speech characteristics or the moment of stuttering. And, for all the non-stuttering clinicians that he taught, his attention to the attitudes and emotions of the individual who stutters helped us to better understand those we were learning to help. Of all the clinical expertise and knowledge Dean personally shared with me, I think the most important lesson I learned from him was to respect those I was trying to help and teach. Dr. Williams taught by example the importance of respecting each individual with whom one has contact; be it a student, client, colleague or friend.

As a speech-language pathologist, Dean epitomized the notion of "Master Clinician." Having watched him talk with so many people who stuttered over the years, Dean was truly gifted in his ability to "connect" with them as they learned to change their speech patterns and explore their feelings about their speech. And with children who stuttered, Dean was a "natural" as well, earning their trust almost instantly. As with the students, clients repeatedly returned or contacted Dean at a later stage in their lives to thank him for helping them to develop their self-esteem and realize their own potential....

Because of Dean's talents as a clinician, scholar, and teacher~ he will be greatly missed. He touched so many throughout his life and the contributions and personal memories he has left us with will not be forgotten. I recall asking him when he retired if he had any advice to pass along to me and he replied, "Don't try to change the world all at once, just take it a step at a time." Indeed, Dean Williams made a difference in just that way!

from Letting Go, Volume 14, Number 10, October 1994 reprinted with permission of the NSP