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Frank Williams announces retirement after 24 years

Posted on Tuesday, January 2, 2018 at 7:08 am

Passing the torch at The Lincoln Forum: Harold Holzer and Frank J. Williams.

After nearly a quarter century of consistent leadership at The Lincoln Forum—with Hon. Frank J. Williams long serving for 24 years as founding chairman and Harold Holzer as founding vice chairman—the management structure at the national organization will shift in late 2018.

Former Rhode Island Chief Justice Williams announced to the 300 attendees at the 22nd annual symposium on November 18 that he intends to stand down from the chairmanship next November after a final year in the role he originated. During the coming transition year, Holzer will serve alongside Williams as co-chairman, and if elected by the Board of Advisors at its 2018 meeting, will succeed Williams and assume the full chairmanship during the 23rd annual symposium next November 16-18 at Gettysburg.

Williams and Holzer conceived the idea of the Forum in early 1994 during a Civil War conference in Florida, with advice from longtime history-conference organizer Peter Brown and from Robert Maher and the late Maynard Schrock of the Civil War Educational Association, together with the late business executive Charles D. Platt and historian David E. Long.

The Forum first convened in 1996 at Gettysburg’s Eisenhower Inn, growing rapidly and moving its symposium in successive decades to the former Holiday Inn Gettysburg Battlefield and then to the Wyndham Gettysburg, its headquarters for the last nine years. During that period, Forum symposium attendance has tripled from 100 to 300. The organization has established national essay contests, teacher and student scholarships, awards to honor both individuals and organizations, a co-sponsorship program to encourage off-season Lincoln-themed events, a twice-yearly Bulletin, and a program of book publishing that has so far generated four volumes of collected essays. Each year, leading scholars attend the yearly symposium to deliver lectures and participate in panel discussions, which are now regularly covered and telecast by C-SPAN 3 (American History TV).

“It’s time,” Judge Williams told the Board of Advisors at its annual meeting. “I am 77 years old, and have been collecting and studying Abraham Lincoln for more than 65 of them. I’ve loved every minute of my work in Lincoln organizations, but have concluded that the time has come to transition to a new generation of leaders who will
continue the work that Harold Holzer and I began so long ago and have worked so hard to sustain and build. I’m enormously grateful to the Executive Committee, our loyal membership, the enthusiasts who attend and enjoy the annual symposia each year, and the historians who have made the Forum such a prime destination for scholarship and engagement. Our aim from the very beginning was to make the Lincoln Forum more than a membership group—but a family. I think we have achieved that goal, which is why so many repeat attendees return each November as if they are heading not just to another conference, but to a reunion. I am confident that this unique spirit will continue under my friend, Harold, and am hopeful that new leaders will step up and join him to carry the torch into the future. Meanwhile I know that Harold, who has been so capably functioning almost as a co-chair from the beginning, will move our agenda forward starting next fall.”

Judge Williams previously led the Lincoln Group of Boston and the Abraham Lincoln Association. A respected scholar, he has written or edited more than 20 books, lectured throughout the nation, and served with distinction on the U. S. Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and its successor organization, the Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation. Williams and his wife, Virginia, also built one of the nation’s great private collections of Lincolniana. Earlier this year, the Williamses donated the entire holding—including manuscripts, relics, paintings, prints, and an enormous Lincoln library—to the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library at Mississippi State University, along with a $500,000 donation to curate and maintain the collection. Williams has long served as President of the Ulysses S. Grant Association, which he will continue to lead. He and his wife, Virginia, added that they will continue their collecting pursuits as well as their involvement with the Forum.

Commented Harold Holzer: “It has been a unique honor and tremendous pleasure to work with Frank over the better part of three different decades to bring our vision for the Forum into reality. Frank has been both a friend and an inspiration, a visionary and a practical manager, a man who knows how to get things done, attract the best cohorts, and maintain focus and direction. I look forward to carrying his legacy forward, and I know he will continue to serve the Forum—and the entire Lincoln and Civil War community—with sustained distinction in whatever areas he chooses to pursue in the years ahead. The Lincoln Forum—and Lincoln studies themselves—would not be in a renaissance if it was not for Frank Williams. His legacy will continue to light our way to the future.”

Holzer, 68, was co-chair of the Bicentennial Commission, chairman of the Foundation, and is a former president of the Lincoln Group of New York. He served as a member of the Board of the Abraham Lincoln Association during Judge Williams’ presidency. The author, coauthor, or editor of 52 books on Lincoln and the Civil War, Holzer has won many awards for his work, including the Lincoln Prize and the National Humanities Medal.

Holzer announced that in honor of the chairman’s retirement, the Forum’s two scholarship programs would be renamed in honor of Frank Williams and his wife, Virginia. The Frank J. Williams Student Scholarship Program and the Virginia Williams Teacher Scholarship Program will continue to offer free conference registration, lodging, and travel subsidies to educators and students who apply and compete each year for designation. “This rebranding celebrates ‘the Chief’ for his consistent enthusiasm for reaching younger students and scholars, and gratefully acknowledges Virginia, a longtime schoolteacher in her own right, for her decades of hard work and fundraising for The Lincoln Forum, where she has been an important and beloved presence from the start.”

Both Williams and Holzer earned special, honorary Richard Nelson Current Awards from The Lincoln Forum—the chairman for the organizations 10th anniversary, and the vice chairman for the 20th.

The current executive committee of the Forum includes: Henry F. Ballone, Treasurer; Betty Anselmo, Secretary; and members George Buss, Edna Greene Medford, and Craig L. Symonds. Ms. Anselmo also serves as Administrator, with Patricia A. Dougal as Assistant Administrator.

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