Jean Pittman Williams can barely remember a time when she didn’t play the piano. Williams grew up in a close-knit family that included three brothers. Until her younger sister was born when Jean was a senior in high school, she was the only girl in the family. While her brothers played rough-and-tumble sports after school, Jean practiced her scales and fell in love with music.
When Jean and her brothers enrolled at Mississippi College in the early 1950s, there was no doubt she would pursue music as a major. Looking back today, Williams is deeply appreciative of the sacrifice her parents made to provide their children with an MC education.
“For five years, they had four of us at Mississippi College,” Williams says. “I’m amazed that my mother and father were able to do it.”
Williams’ kind nature and natural leadership skills soon earned the respect and admiration of her MC classmates. She was elected class favorite, homecoming queen, and Miss MC. Social tribes were introduced during her first year on campus; Williams was a charter member of the Kissimmee tribe and went on to become the tribe’s president.
Jean Pittman Williams graduated in 1955 with a degree in music education with special distinction and began a career as a music teacher. In 1956, she married her high school sweetheart, James Kelley Williams. Over the next several years, the couple lived in Mississippi, Oklahoma, Florida, and Massachusetts while James Kelley Williams served in the Air Force, completed his graduate degree, and assumed various positions in the chemical industry. Jean Williams spent those years teaching.
“I taught music in four states,” Williams says, “and because of the excellent education I received at MC, I knew I could hold my own teaching music anywhere in the country.”
The Williams eventually moved back to Mississippi, where they raised three sons, Kelley, Jr., George, and Cliff, and Jean Williams reconnected with old friends from MC.
“The two things I value the most about MC are the education I received and the relationships I formed there,” Williams says. “I had wonderful, caring professors and my peers were all bright, outstanding people. I’m still in touch with many of the friends I made at MC more than 50 years ago.”
Susie Jordan met Jean Pittman Williams when both were in high school. The two were roommates at Mississippi College, where they engaged in such daring high jinks as snatching the beanies off the heads of Millsaps freshmen. Jordan and Williams were both candidates for Miss MC; Williams won by 50 votes, but the competition couldn’t dampen the friendship between the two women. Jordan and Williams are still close friends today, some 55 years since the two graduated.
"Jean is absolutely genuine. I know I could pick up the phone and call her at any time. She is always accessible, and she’s always Jean,” Jordan says. “Jean is low key, but she is aggressively creative and involved with so many causes that are dear to her. She’s not the type to just sit around and drink coffee.”
Williams’ many activities today include volunteering with the Magnolia Speech School, Eudora Welty Foundation, and Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, singing in the church choir, and spending time with her family, which has grown to include four grandchildren. Williams has also logged a decade of service during multiple terms on the board of trustees of Mississippi College.
“It’s been so exciting to be involved with MC again,” Williams says. “We’ve had some ups and downs over the years, but there have been far more ‘ups’ than ‘downs.’ Seeing the progress Mississippi College has made, especially in the last decade, has been wonderful. I’m proud of the direction MC is going.”
During a visit to the MC campus as a trustee, Williams saw a pressing need for improvements to the aging MC recital hall. Seeing it as an opportunity to express her love of music and to “repay my parents and MC for all they did for me,” Williams and her husband made a generous gift to the university to fund the renovation. Unveiled on October 3, 2006, the completely refurbished, upgraded, and enhanced facility was christened the Jean Pittman Williams Recital Hall.
“The renovation completely changed the realm of possibility for us,” says Dr. Jamie Meaders, chair of the MC Music Department. “The space before the renovation had no raised, comfortable seating, so there were no sight lines to the stage. There was no stage lighting, so any attempt at a production was limited from the outset, and there was no sound system, so the production of a musical was impossible. In a word, it was embarrassing to host guests and prospective students in our primary performance venue. Since the renovation, however, we proudly display the space and utilize its beautiful, intimate setting as often as possible.”
“I’m very proud of the recital hall,” Williams says. “I think the music department is so important. That’s where we train future church musicians, and music in general touches so many lives – not only the lives of those who create it, but also of those who hear it.”
At the dedication of the renovated recital hall that now bears her name, Williams once again recognized her parents’ gift of a Mississippi College education.
“I honor my parents, Reather and Calhoun Pittman, with the gift of this renovation of the recital hall,” Williams said. “In the early 1950s, they sacrificed greatly to give my three brothers and me a Mississippi College education. Because of their sacrifice for me, I simply can’t not be involved in music education and the passing on of the love of music.
“My prayer is that the students who come and go through this recital hall will leave with a deeper love of God and a great appreciation for Mississippi College, and will go into the world to pass on to the next generation a love of music.”