Hibbard Williams

Remembering Hibbard Williams The UC Davis School of Medicine’s second dean oversaw unprecedented growth and development

The UC Davis community is remembering Hibbard E. Williams, an endocrinologist and internationally respected expert on kidney stone disease who served as UC Davis School of Medicine’s second dean from 1980 to 1992.

Williams died in his home in Davis on July 26 at age 83, after a battle with Lewy Body Disease. In recognition of his passing, the University of California flag was lowered to half-staff on the Sacramento campus.

Williams guided the rapid and unprecedented growth and development of UC Davis as a major medical research facility, and is remembered by many as a caring physician with tremendous enthusiasm, an infectious laugh, an encyclopedic knowledge of internal medicine and the highest standards for care and teaching.

“Hibbard Williams was the sort of physician that, even in my earliest pre-clinical medical school years, I recognized as an exemplar of the best of doctors,” said Faith Fitzgerald, a lifelong friend and UC Davis professor of internal medicine who first met Williams when she was a medical student in a course he was teaching.

“He was kind, curious, caring, generous, imaginative, good humored, thoughtful, and — with his deep empathy for patients, his remarkable clinical skills, and his delight in science and discovery — the kind of doctor that I wanted so very much to be.”

Frederick Meyers, associate dean of precision medicine at the School of Medicine, also first met Williams as a medical student on clinical rounds.

“Hibbard Williams was a master at taking a patient’s history and doing a physical exam at the bedside,” he said. “A brilliant clinician-educator, terrific physician researcher and great dean, he was also a truly kind and caring person, which enabled him to also be a wonderful physician and academic medical leader.”

As dean, Williams successfully balanced traditional primary care training with development of leading-edge subspecialty programs, and UC Davis Medical Center grew into a major regional resource.

Pioneering programs such as the cancer center, the Shriners affiliation and new centers for ag worker health, AIDS research and skull-base surgery were born. The relatively young school of medicine rose into the U.S. top 30 percent for total research funding and earned recognition for having one of the country’s top primary care programs.

While dean and after returning to his position as a professor in 1992, Williams remained involved in teaching, research and care. He retired in 2000 and continued to participate in grand rounds and lectures. An endowed chair and an annual award are named in his honor.

“I reached out to Hibbard not long after I’d accepted the role that he had filled more than two decades before me,” said Julie Freischlag, vice chancellor for human health sciences and current dean of the School of Medicine. “He was so warm and gracious, and I could tell immediately why he was held in such high regard by students and faculty. His legacy as a dean, educator, physician and wonderful human being continues to be felt throughout the school. Kindness like his endures.”

Joseph Silva, dean of the School of Medicine from 1997 to 2005, also recalled Williams’ influence.

“Hibbard has left an indelible mark on me. His intense desire to help others seeking advice was a capstone event in guiding many of us, and the spectrum extended from students and assistants to residents, faculty, co-deans and chancellors,” Silva said. “He was articulate, engaging, compassionate, thoughtful and honest, and was always cordial and very clever in moving groups to consensus on contentious issues. He was truly one of our wisest and most creative leaders at the School of Medicine.”

Williams was born in New York in 1932 and completed a medical degree at Cornell, an internship and residency at Massachusetts General Hospital and a fellowship at the National Institutes of Health. After instructing at Harvard and serving patients at Mass General, he joined the UCSF faculty in 1965 and rose through the ranks.

During this time his expertise with challenging kidney stone cases evolved, leading to the discovery of a defective enzyme that causes the condition. In 1978 he returned to chair Cornell’s Department of Medicine and serve as physician-
in-chief at New York Hospital. He remained on the UCSF faculty, and joined the UC Davis faculty in 1980.

Williams received many honors and awards throughout his career, including UC faculty awards and the Kaiser Foundation Award for Excellence in Teaching. He was elected to the American Society of Clinical Investigation and served on numerous editorial boards and medical committees.

Williams’ wife, Sharon, of 33 years, described him as a loving father and husband devoted to family and work. Williams has seven children in a blended family: Hans and Nancy Williams, Robin Williams, Bill and Laurie Towne, Sue Towne, Julie and Michael Sheehan, Kathy and Kraig Brady, and Liz and Wayne Gilbert; as well as 13 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

The family held a private ceremony. Memorial donations may be made to UC Davis Hospice Program at give.ucdavis.edu/Go/hospice or Citizens Who Care for the Elderly www.citizenswhocare.us/.