An older woman smiling in front of a bookcase.

Mary Williams

Interview with Mary Williams

by Mary Williams

Q: For those who don’t know you well, tell us about your family and how you got started in music. 

A: I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin, the oldest of four. Both my parents played a little piano and we had a spinet in the house. My dad also played banjo and had been an arranger for a dance band he played in while he was in college. From elementary school on, I always sang in the choir and played piano. When I was in the high school choir, my choir director got me really interested in pursuing music, and I attended a music camp in Michigan for five summers (not Interlochen). So I learned theory and had voice lessons and sang in a chorus. 

Q: Where did you go to school and what was the best part of it? 

A: When it came time to choose a college, I couldn’t imagine going anywhere but the University of Michigan, as my voice teacher from summer camp lived in Ann Arbor. He had been associated with the University some years earlier, but was in semi-retirement at that time. I did study with him, as well as attend music school there. It never occurred to me to apply to more than one college, and fortunately U of M accepted me. I loved the large active campus and being around really bright, talented and interesting students and faculty. I found the classes and atmosphere stimulating and challenging. There were always concerts and plays to go to (I ushered so I could go for free), lectures and clubs to participate in. 

About 10% of the students were from other countries, and I frequented the international center, making friends with many foreign students. My roommate was on the student council, and with a fellow student, I had the chance to sign up students to take a charter flight to Europe the summer after my sophomore year. For our work, we got our fare half-price – $150 round trip. So I spent 11 weeks in Europe that summer, which was a wonderful experience and hooked me on travel.

Q: Where did you first teach and how did it happen that you came to Dallas?

A: I majored in Music Ed and taught elementary music in a suburb of Detroit my first year after college. But I hated the northern winters, and quit without a job after one year. I applied in several warmer states and in June came to Dallas for an interview, where I was hired by Dallas ISD, even though all music positions were filled. I would fill in where needed when school started and teachers left. A few days before I left Wisconsin with my worldly possessions in my car, I was informed that I would be an extra music and art teacher at TG Terry Elementary School in Oak Cliff. It was an overcrowded school with a new school under construction nearby; there were already two music and two art teachers at Terry, and I would be there only a year to staff the overflow classes. I started school with 11 classes a day in a regular classroom with a piano, unfamiliar song books and 50 lbs of clay. It was an interesting and exhausting year and the end of my classroom music teaching career.

Q: What has been your involvement with the Dallas Alumni chapter over the years?

A: I met Gene Williams, who was teaching science at Kimbell High School, and we were married at the end of my first year in Dallas. Since we both taught for DISD, someone had to quit. (Remember that rule?) So I quit and we had a baby a year later. I wanted an activity out of the house, so joined the church choir, the Teacher’s Wives Club and the Mu Phi Alumni chapter. That was in 1961. 

I held just about every position in Mu Phi over the years, including President for two years, and was a delegate to the convention in Portland OR in 1966. We hosted the convention in Dallas in 1968 and I worked on that. In December of 1968 I had a set of twins (I already had three children), and had a second set of twins two years later. I taught piano at home while my children were growing up, and became active in the concert series with Cleo Furr, Frances Stuart, Edie Pfautsch and Claudia Jameson as they managed it for many years. Edie and I also did weekly music therapy sessions at a daycare center for cerebral palsy children. That ended when I had the second set of twins. I had another hiatus from Mu Phi when I went to graduate school from 1976-80. Then during my corporate working career and particularly after I retired in 1999, I took over the newsletter and then website, remaining involved with the concert series. Since I had some “office” skills, I did programs and publicity for the concerts.

Q: So you left the music profession entirely and moved into another field. How did that come about? What did you do in your other career?

A: I had been serving as a volunteer in the Explore organization in the 1970s – teaching personal growth and life skills to women. I was a class facilitator, developed curriculum and trained other facilitators. Though I was working part time teaching piano, I was not earning enough to contribute to the expenses of a large family. I decided to get credentials to match the training experience I was developing and go to work in business. So I took undergraduate business classes and then enrolled in the MBA program at the University of North Texas, where I received my degree in 1980. During my last semester at UNT I also taught two sections of Business Writing. 

When I graduated in 1980 I got a job with The Evans Group, a consulting company, developing training programs for companies. I then stopped teaching piano and became a supporter of the arts only. I worked for several other companies – Zale Jewelry, Fast Tax (tax processing company) and Greyhound, developing training programs. I then went back to Evans where I started, for my last 6 years before retiring in 1999. I taught employees job skills based on what they needed to be able to do to be competent in their jobs. These jobs were in many different fields – sales, apartment leasing and management, customer service, negotiation, diversity, leadership, supervision, tax software, electrical and air conditioning repair, meeting leadership, etc. I learned computer skills, many kinds of software, communication and conflict resolution skills that I incorporated into much “soft-skill” training. I learned to analyze business issues, write clearly, resolve problems, work in a corporate environment, do research and many other things during my career which I have passed on to others and have used in my personal, volunteer and family life.

Continuing my interest in music after retirement, I became a Board member of the Dallas Chamber Orchestra for four years, its president for two of those years. I also became more involved with our Concert Series.

Q: You have won some Mu Phi awards over the years – what are they?

A: I was nominated by the chapter for the international Orah Ashley Lambke award for outstanding volunteer of the year in 2009. Much to my surprise, I did receive this award. In 2012 I received the chapter’s Violet Award for service to the chapter – mostly for my work with our Concert Series, website and newsletter. I have also won awards for our chapter four times for best website and four times for best newsletter. I am very grateful for these honors and am always surprised that doing what I love doing is award-worthy.

Q: Though you are still active as a music patron and concert goer, what other interests do you have besides music? How do you spend your time? 

A: Most people know I am interested in all things international and love to travel. I’ve been to every state but Alaska, and to 41 countries. I am active in Friendship Force and a member of the Dallas club, where I host visitors from other countries and visit people in their homes when our local Friendship Force club has an “exchange” with another club. The organization promotes cultural understanding, and has been a great source of satisfaction and volunteer activities for me (newsletter, website, meeting flyers, exchange materials). I am active in Unity Church of Dallas, taking and teaching classes; I speak at various places and give presentations on travel and other topics. Interests include photography, reading, gardening, playing with grandchildren, hiking/walking, driving around the country, taking classes, attending concerts, lectures and theater, writing stories about my family and life, and visiting with friends. I also do a little private teaching – computer skills to people one-on-one in their homes. I have enough projects on my plate to keep me busy the rest of my life.

Q: Anything else we should know about you? 

A: I am never bored or lonely, even though my husband and I split years ago. I rent out a room in my townhome so that I have a live-in house sitter when I am gone. Six of my seven children have married and I have seven young grandchildren. [Now 8 – in 2014] I’m vegetarian, don’t watch TV or smoke or drink coffee or play bridge. I believe in lifelong learning, the importance of friendships and family, and giving to my community. 

Mu Phi Epsilon has been an enriching part of my life, and I am blessed to be a part of this organization and to be able to give what I can to it, even though I am not a performer. I value and appreciate all you wonderful musicians I have come to know and admire your performing abilities and enjoy your friendship.