|Dr. Leodrey Williams, Chancellor of the Southern University Agricultural Research & Extension Center|
Baton Rouge, LA- After 50 years of service in the century-long cooperative extension program, Chancellor Leodrey Williams, Ed. D of the Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center will retire on June 30.
Dr. Williams grew up working on his family’s farm and said it was a way of life. “That was the only income we had. My father was a farmer and, at a very young age, I started plowing and cultivating the field. It was just work and going to school,” he added.
Williams was not formally introduced to agriculture until high school as a member of the New Farmers of America Program. His participation in the program’s quiz bowl contest allowed him to visit Southern University and reside in the dormitories while in high school.
After graduating, Williams enrolled at Southern University and originally planned to major in bacteriology. “It sounded good, but I don’t know anything about it,” he admitted. After sharing his plans with his Vocational Ag instructor, the former teacher said, “Boy you don’t know anything about bacteriology, you’re going to major in Agriculture,” added Williams with a laugh. “So I majored in Vocational Agriculture.”
He never planned to use his degree to teach in a classroom, but wanted to work in Foreign Services. “I wanted to work internationally in developing countries,” said Williams. “That was my interest.”
However, things did not work out as planned. He ended up taking the ‘Peace Corp’ Exam during his senior year and was selected to go to a foreign country. He declined the offer to take a class he needed to graduate and asked to be reassigned later.
Just before his graduation, Williams was drafted to the Army. “I didn’t get a chance to go to the Peace Corp. After three years and a couple of months in the Army, that was enough Foreign Service for that time. I was ready to go to my professional job,” said Williams.
After turning home from the Army, Dr. Williams visited his former Ag teacher, Mr. Carolina Chapman, in search of work. Mr. Chapman told him the only position he knew of was as an assist county agent in Richland Parish. And based on the history of that parish and circumstances surrounding civil rights demonstrations, he would not recommend that job. Williams replied, “If a person has one bit of human in him, I’ll be able to get there and get along with him.”
In 1965, after being hired as the assistant county agent for work with Negros in Richland Parish, Dr. Williams began his professional career in Agriculture with Cooperative Extension. Six weeks later, the title was deemed illegal after the passing of the Civil Rights Act. Although Williams was assigned that specific title, he also worked with white farmers. “I worked with some (white farmers) who said I was the only person that worked with them. White agents had never worked with them,” said Williams.
In 1971, Southern University established its own extension office and hired Williams as an agricultural specialist, along with a small staff, to recruit and create programs. He later held quite a few positions at both Southern University and Louisiana State University. As a director, he served on several national committees and was appointed ombudsman of a national task force organized to ensure the “upward mobility of extension.” He would go on to become the national director of this task force and was in charge of funding for extension programs at 104 land-grant universities.
In 1995, Dr. Williams returned to Southern as the cooperative extension director, and in 2001, was asked to lead the newly formed Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center, the fifth campus of the Southern University System. His planned was to work for two and a half years, but has held the position for 14 years. As Chancellor, his focus has been to move and grow the Center as an intricate part of the Southern University System.
“With the shortage of resources in higher education, we have not been able to get the funding that has been appropriated for us,” said Williams. “I hope we will get to the point where funding appropriated for the Southern University Agricultural Research & Extension Center will be used for that purpose,” he added.
After retiring on June 30, he plans to volunteer for charitable organizations and hospitals. “Whatever I do, I plan to remain active,” said Williams.
The Southern University Ag Center will host a retirement celebration for Dr. Williams on June 18 at Boudreaux’s, 2647 Government Street in Baton Rouge. Funds generated from the event will support the Leodrey Williams Scholarship Fund.
This article was written by LaKeeshia Giddens and Donna Badon.