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Aquinas Alumnus Receives Order of Canada Honor

Aquinas provides opportunities for students to discover their passions and skills, then put them to work. Aquinas students are taught to look beyond the walls of the institution to see the special contributions that they can make to the wider world. Graduates from the College have been recognized for their success and hard work in the public sphere. Just ask Brian Williams ‘69, famed Canadian sportscaster and recent inductee into the Order of Canada, who began his journey as an anxious young student at Aquinas College.

Williams, a student of history and political science at Aquinas College from 1965 to 1969, was originally from Hamilton, Ontario. Having made a move to Detroit - his father serving as Medical Director at St. John’s Hospital - Williams was drawn to Aquinas, where he fostered his blooming passion for broadcasting. Here, Williams was given the opportunity to do his first work in radio, with the College’s former FM radio station (WXTO).

“From my freshman year through my senior year, I worked at that radio station introducing everything from sports… I did play-by-play of Aquinas basketball. I can remember the team traveled in station wagons, and I would travel along. I would have my little equipment that I would plug into the telephone, and I’d broadcast the game back to WXTO. I also introduced religious programs. That was my first broadcasting experience,” Williams said.
When asked about his favorite memories as an Aquinas student, Williams said, “I don’t know if I can pick out one. I was fortunate to room, as a freshman, with Dennis Alexander. I learned so much from Dennis. He taught me so much about life.”

In his later years at Aquinas, Williams worked for Grand Rapids radio station WGRD - “It was a rock-and-roll station. I did news and sports.” After graduation, Williams taught one year at St. Jude’s School, in Grand Rapids. He maintained a relationship with WGRD, doing early morning broadcasts before teaching at St. Jude’s the rest of the day.

Over time, Williams’ career expanded, as he turned his passion for sports and broadcasting into a successful career as a widely recognized sportscaster. In particular, Williams is often noted for his coverage of the Olympics. He has served both CBC (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) and CTV - two Canadian networks. In 2010, Williams participated in a skit with American anchor - Brian Williams? The two famed caster Williams (pictured at top right) entertained television viewers with a fun show on the CTV Olympics broadcasting set, which the Toronto Sun described as “funny” and “clever.”

Williams often sees his successes as an extension of his Aquinas education, which played a significant role in shaping his worldview and understanding of the global community. “This small, Catholic school in Grand Rapids really looked outward, if you will. And it was at Aquinas that I began to appreciate what existed well beyond Michigan, well beyond North America. It was just a time of great memories, of enjoyment, of learning,” Williams said. “I’ve done thirteen Olympics, I’ve traveled all over the world, and I’ve done sporting events from Australia to Korea to Los Angeles: not too many places I haven’t been. And, you know, the grounding I got at Aquinas - academically, self-confidence, starting in broadcasting - is something that has played an important role in my life.”

In 2006, Williams returned to Aquinas campus, when he served as Commencement Speaker for the graduating class. At that time, Williams received an honorary doctorate in Humane Letters from the College. Of this experience, however, one element stands out most to Williams: reuniting with his former roommates.

The day was one of great memories and reflecting on Williams’ own journey: “When I came back to do the Commencement Address, Dennis [Alexander] came up from Detroit — he at the time was Vice Principal at a school in Detroit. I was walking in with the graduates and there he was!” Williams shared a bit of this journey with the graduating class of ’06: “I think I began the Commencement Address by saying, ‘When I came to Aquinas, I was… a nervous young Protestant, and when I left I was a confident, newly baptized Catholic.’”

Now, Williams’ ever-expanding horizons can include one more achievement: he has been made an Officer of the Order of Canada, one of the nation’s highest honors, for his work in communications. An honor given to leadership who make a notable impact on the country, the Order of Canada was established in 1967. Williams has no plans of slowing down, however, even as he looks back at his accomplishments, and the role Aquinas College played in forming the man he is today: “It was a unique place to not only attend university, but to live for four years.”