Many college students struggle to make ends meet from one semester to the next. A new gift to the University of Mississippi School of Education will help remove some of students’ stress while honoring the life and memory of longtime Oxford, Mississippi, resident Elsie Wells Williston.
A much beloved spouse, mother, grandmother and friend, Williston passed away in May 2018 after a year-long battle with cancer. She was a 1969 Ole Miss graduate and physical education major with strong ties to the Lafayette County-Oxford-University (LOU) community.
While still a student at Oxford High School, Elsie Wells met her future husband Ed Williston, who earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Ole Miss in 1970. During 48 years of marriage, the two were inseparable. And, although the Willistons first met in high school, Ole Miss is where their relationship strengthened.
“Elsie was a much better student than I was,” said Ed Williston. “She put herself through school with work-study and school loans. That’s the reason we wanted this scholarship to be need-based. There are students who have the potential to go on to become really good teachers and maybe don’t qualify for a lot of scholarships. We want to support those young people.”
Beginning this year, one student in the UM School of Education will receive the Elsie Williston Scholarship worth $1,000. The scholarship endowment will soon fund up to four $1,000 scholarships annually. The funds will help offset college expenses for students, who, like Elsie Williston, are working their way through college.
As Ed Williston noted, in addition to student loans, his wife worked as a work-study student at Ward Hall on the Oxford campus, where she also served as residence hall president. As a student, she pushed herself academically to graduate in three and a half years. After earning her degree, she accepted a teaching position in New Orleans and then returned to Oxford in the summer of 1969 to marry.
Shortly after Ed Williston graduated and was commissioned in the U.S. Air Force, the couple moved to Laredo, Texas, where he began pilot training and she worked as an elementary physical education teacher. After living at numerous bases and having sons, Brad and Britton, Elsie Williston stepped away from the classroom to focus on raising the children.
“Elsie had a great sense of humor, and she was always generous and kind,” Ed Williston said. “Our sons still remember that every day before she would send them to school she would tell them to always ‘be kind to everyone you meet today.’”
After Ed Williston’s retirement from active duty, the couple landed in Memphis, Tennessee, where he flew international flights for FedEx for 25 years until the Willistons returned home to Oxford in 2011. In retirement, they rejoined the LOU community, including a return to St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, their childhood parish.
Longtime UM donors, the Willistons previously supported Ole Miss Athletics, the Ole Miss Fund, Friends of the Library and numerous academic units.
This new major gift will be used to honor Elsie Williston’s memory in the School of Education’s 1903 Society, a pooled academic enhancement endowment that seeks to help the school establish its first $1 million endowment, with annual income serving strategic needs. Posthumously, she will become one of 100 charter members of the society and be permanently recognized with a metal etching displayed outside the dean’s office in Guyton Hall.
“We lost Elsie far too soon. Her light shined bright as a friend, neighbor, mother and spouse,” said Billy Crews, development officer for the School of Education. “She lives on through her devoted husband Eddie, their sons and grandchildren. Her legacy also will be greatly expanded through the lives of students who receive scholarships in her name for years to come.
“She will be influencing teachers and young students because of this generous scholarship endowment gift from her adoring family.”
Teaching is a thread woven through this family. Elsie Williston volunteered as a tutor in an adult reading education program while living in Memphis. Ed Williston served as an instructor pilot during his time in the Air Force. Brad Williston also found his way to education and now leads the school libraries in the San Francisco area; Britton Williston is an attorney in Virginia Beach.
The Elsie Williston Endowment will help UM students work toward careers of influence in the classroom.
“We have 1,500 students in our School of Education,” said Dean David Rock. “A generous gift like the Williston family has provided is a wonderful example of the impact of our graduates throughout their lives – in classrooms, with their families and supporting others – to become the great teachers we need in our state and nation.”
Ed Williston echoed the dean’s sentiments.
“Elsie always valued the experiences our sons had with really good teachers. She was just so involved with our children growing up and with their school work. We want scholarship recipients to know that she would be so proud that they’re going into education and are dedicating themselves to making a difference in young people’s lives.”
To make a gift to the Elsie W. Williston Memorial Scholarship Endowment, click here or mail a check to the University of Mississippi Foundation, with the fund’s name noted in the check’s memo line, to 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655.
For more information about the Williston Scholarship or other gifts to the UM School of Education, contact Billy Crews, development officer, at email@example.com or 662-915-2836.
By Andrew M. Abernathy