Nancy Williams

Changing the World

Nancy's steadfast calling to civic and community service really began with her parents, as she grew up observing their work in civic and community life. Over the years, Nancy has carried on their tradition in numerous ways, including serving on the Lowcountry Workforce Investment Board, being a member of the Greater Island Council and the Hilton Head High School Improvement Council, chairing the Together for Beaufort Partnership for Adult Literacy, and working with Planned Parenthood. Within her church, she's also volunteered in several areas, including serving as an elder, chairing a planning and research committee, and playing in the handbell choir.  

Nancy's largest commitment over the last twenty-plus years, however, has been her work with Literacy Volunteers of the Lowcountry (LVL). While she initially began her involvement with LVL as a volunteer, Nancy later became the director of the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) programs. Then, eleven years ago, she became the executive director of LVL. During her tenure there, in addition to the administrative duties involved for an organization with 200 volunteers and more than 700 adult learners, Nancy has done everything from initiating ties with Jasper-Hampton Adult Education to launching Cooks & Books, a significant fundraising event for LVL. Furthermore, LVL has received many awards under her leadership, including the impressive Erin Hardwick Award for Nonprofit Excellence in 2011, a statewide recognition she calls a "capstone." Nancy has also been chosen three times to be a workshop presenter at national proliteracy conferences.

With such responsibilities, it's no wonder then that when she speaks of her retirement, beginning on the first of this month, she smiles and says, "I'll be interested to see how the first morning goes. I don't have a plan for it, but I'm looking forward to it." And while she plans to continue to be concerned with and active in literacy issues and community life, she says it's "time to pass the baton to the next person" when it comes to her position as LVL's executive director.

Nancy's professional life has not been just about literacy causes, however. Prior to moving to Hilton Head, Nancy lived in Connecticut and taught high school English. After eleven years in education, she opted for a change of pace and entered the human resources field. During this time, she worked for Aetna as a personnel coordinator and later for Cigna as Assistant Director of People Resources.

In 1986, all that changed when Nancy came down to Hilton Head to visit her parents. Deciding to take a golf lesson, she met Burrell Williams, a golf pro at Dolphin Head Golf Club and her instructor. The lesson must have gone well, because Burrell asked her to go golfing with him on Daufuskie. Noting her own lack of golf skills, she thought, "His interest in me will be short-lived." Her assumption proved to be wrong; the next year the two were married and Nancy moved to Hilton Head. Two years later, their son Rob was born.

When she isn't occupied with work and service, Nancy enjoys traveling, both within the country and abroad. After retirement, she and her husband hope to first hit the Pacific Northwest, her husband's old stomping grounds. She also mentions Eastern Central Europe and Costa Rica as possible destinations. Furthermore, Nancy is a member of a book club, an informal group of twelve members who enjoy good food, wine, and conversation. And while she hasn't had much time for golf lately, it's no surprise given her husband's profession, she hopes to golf more in retirement.

Nancy's office is littered with pictures and gifts from so many of the people whose lives she's impacted, and she describes her work as both "a vocation and a passion. Here, changes in lives are observable. So if I've helped even one, five, or ten, who say I've made a difference, then I'm grateful." In truth, literally thousands of lives have been touched by her work and commitment.

Nancy explains that she has always "needed to be part of something bigger" than herself, and notes one of her favorite quotations, written by Mary Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." Undoubtedly, changing the world is precisely what she's doing.


In high school:
Nancy was voted "Most Likely to Succeed."
Interesting side job: During her Connecticut days, Nancy also worked as a stringer for a local radio station, covering community events.

Other LVL recognitions awarded during Nancy's tenure: LVL received the 2003 Organization of the Year Award from the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce and two Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce Civitas awards to an outstanding non-profit in 2004 and 2010.

On literacy in Beaufort County: LVL has made great strides in reducing illiteracy within the county, but Nancy notes, "There are still as many as 10,000 Beaufort County adults who lack basic literacy skills and many more with only the most basic of skills.  Although we've come a long way, there is still much work to be done."