facebook twitter Linkedin Email

Marching band, students to benefit from Jean and Rudy Williams Scholarship in Music

Lamar University music students, Lamar University’s music program and the university marching band The Showcase of Southeast Texas, will benefit from the Jean and Rudy Williams Scholarship in Music, officials in the Mary Morgan Moore Department of Music and the College of Fine Arts and Communication announced April 27.

The scholarship is named in memory of Jean and Rudy Williams, the parents of Susan Simmons, former First Lady of Lamar University and wife of President Emeritus James M. “Jimmy” Simmons. The scholarship was announced at a reception for Jimmy Simmons upon his retirement from the music faculty. 

Susan and Jimmy SimmonsSimmons’ 48-year career with Lamar began in 1970 when he joined the faculty as an instructor and director of the marching band. He rose through the ranks, later serving as director of bands and as chair of the Department of Music and Theatre before his appointment as dean in 1992. In 1996, he began serving concurrently as interim executive director of university advancement. On Sept. 1, 1999, he took office as the university’s 10th president, ultimately serving 14 years. He became the university’s first president emeritus upon his retirement and returned to the faculty where he has continued sharing his talent, insight and skills with university music students.

Throughout that career, Susan Simmons actively supported his many roles at Lamar University in their “joint venture,” by serving as chaperone on bus trips as the “Grandest Band in the Land” traveled throughout the state and beyond, spending countless hours at then Cardinal Stadium with their young children as the band refined its weekly performances, and much more. 

When he assumed the presidency, her roles expanded as together they engaged the broader alumni, Beaumont and regional communities fostering a warm “town-gown” relationship. At LU, she was instrumental in the steady improvement of the campus appearance, bringing her experience as a realtor to bear as she created “curb appeal” by working with architects on the design and materials of the new residence halls, dining hall, athletics center, estate fencing and more.

“This generous scholarship of more than $120,000 annually will help the department recruit the finest musical talent in Texas and beyond,” said Brian Shook, associate professor of music and chair of the music department. “It’s a game-changer for us that will certainly continue to raise our level of producing first-rate music educators and performers.

“A significant portion of these highly-competitive scholarships will go directly to the Lamar University Marching Band to increase the magnitude and reputation of ‘The Showcase of Southeast Texas,’” Shook said.

“In addition to offering talented students significant financial assistance, the donation will also provide for an annual jazz festival honoring Mrs. Susan W. Simmons and Dr. James M. Simmons, along with recognizing each year’s scholarship recipients.”

Rudy WilliamsIn 2014, the Rudy C. Williams Building at the John Gray Center complex was named in honor of Williams for his contributions to higher education at Lamar University. He died at age 92 on October 10, 2014. Williams had established The Jean and Rudy Williams Academic Enhancement Fund at Lamar University to provide scholarships and academic enhancement funds for faculty and students.  The gift was made in memory of his late wife, Jean, who died in 2005. Born at home on August 27, 1922 in Milam, Texas to Vessie and Lily Williams, Rudy was the youngest of four children, living on the farm, without electricity, running water or indoor plumbing until the early 1940s.

He attended Geneva Grammar School in Geneva, Texas, and graduated from Hemphill High School in 1940. He lettered in basketball and made spending money raising and selling tomatoes. At 15, he worked at a tomato shed in Hemphill. 

After graduating high school, his sister, Carra Cates convinced their father that Rudy should not stay on the farm, and took $35 that their father had given him for a car and rented a room in Beaumont where he attended Chenier’s Business School. While attending classes, Williams worked every day at the San Jacinto Drug Store as a short order cook, sold shoes at Rosenthal’s Department Store, and worked at Tyrell Hardware on the weekends doing odd jobs.

In 1941, his first “real” job was with Atlantic-Gulf and Pacific Dredging Co. First, he worked as a payroll clerk for this company that dredged up and down the Intercoastal Canal from Mobile Bay to Corpus Christi. He learned as many of the skills aboard this barge as he could, and by 1942, the company classified him as a civil engineer. In 1944, he was employed as an assistant purchasing agent for the Lummus Company in Port Neches, Texas. Then he went to work for the Defense Plant Corp. (a part of the U.S. Government). This corporation coordinated materials to build chemical plants and refineries in the Port Neches, Port Arthur, and Beaumont areas. He worked for this company until 1945. In December 1944, he married Jean Hilliard, and they had three children: Susan, Reed and Richard.

In 1945, Roy Manes and Williams started Gulf Supply Co. From 1944-1970, he and his family lived in Beaumont, where he was a charter and active member of Trinity United Methodist Church. In 1950, he served on the building committee for the church, and he helped to organize the fundraising committee for the television broadcasting system at Trinity United Methodist Church in Beaumont.

In 1951, Williams became executive vice president of Gulf Supply. In 1967, he became president and CEO of the company, which became a nationally known industrial distributor of piping and related materials. Later that year, Williams, John Duncan, and others bought Roy Maness’s interest in Gulf Supply, and Gulf Supply became Gulf Consolidated Services. Williams became president and CEO of that company, also. In 1970, Williams and his partners moved the company to Houston. His company bought/merged with several companies, and eventually, as CEO of Gulf Consolidated Services he operated 21 divisions throughout the world and employed 1,600 people. Also, in 1970, Rudy and Jean built a lake house in Livingston, Texas, which became their weekend place.

In 1977, Williams and his partners sold Gulf Consolidated Serves to the Mead Corp. From 1977-1985, he served as consultant for the Mead Corp. In 1985, he started another company, Oil Company Specialties, and then sold this company to John Mecom in 1988. That year, Williams retired and he and Jean bought a house in Beaumont where they lived part time and part time at the lake. While living in Livingston, he was very active in community affairs. He helped organize the fundraising drive to build a new facility for Livingston’s First United Methodist Church. He also served on the board and the building committee for the county hospital. In 1999, Jean and Rudy returned to Beaumont to live. Jean died in 2005, and Rudy married Helen Hatchell Freeman the following year, and embraced her children and grandchildren as his own. The couple had been married nine years at the time of his passing. 

An avid sportsman and “farmer,” Williams enjoyed fishing, hunting, golfing, working in his yard, managing his investments, and talking about his travels. He especially enjoyed his visits to the Middle East: Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran. Williams enjoyed watching basketball and golf, and telling “tall tales.” His favorite saying was “Life is good.”