“The world needs visionaries.”
That’s the new tag line defining Claflin University’s hope of raising the institution’s state, regional and national profile. As a matter of fact, a visionary of sorts can be found in the Claflin President’s Office, where she’s worked since 1977.
Melvenia Williams has served as executive administrative assistant to Claflin President Dr. Henry Tisdale since he took the helm at the university in 1994. She also worked under former Claflin presidents Dr. H.V. Manning and Dr. Oscar Allen Rogers Jr.
Through it all, Williams has maintained a system marked by professionalism, integrity and dependability, and that has earned her designation as the exemplification of being “trustworthy” by the Orangeburg County Community of Character initiative.
Williams says she appreciates the honor but can’t believe she received it.
“It was such a surprise,” said Williams, who has served a total of six college presidents as an administrative assistant.
“I worked for three college presidents at Claflin and three college presidents at Voorhees College in Denmark … I always say after these six college presidents that I’m still of sound mind,” she said, laughing. But Williams says she doesn’t think she would have held the job for so long had she not been trustworthy.
“That was trust. They trusted me, and I supported them. Any confidential information was never divulged … I am a reliable, honest person. I feel that trustworthy people sleep well at night,” she said.
Williams, a Norway native, said her mother, Rosa Lee Tyler Williams, instilled character traits such as trustworthiness in her and her seven siblings, four of whom are still living.
“It comes directly from my mother. My mother was a Christian. We were always in Sunday School. We participated in church activities. She just always taught us to be respectful and that if you respect yourself, other people will respect you. She told us to not embarrass ourselves or the family,” Williams said, adding that her mother’s wisdom built the foundation from which she shaped her own values.
“My mother always taught us to trust ourselves first. Once you’ve got confidence and trust in yourself, then other people will see it and trust you also. It’s very hard to regain trust, and that’s why I try very hard not to make mistakes that will make people kind of lose that trust in you,” Williams said.
She said Claflin University has provided a good environment in which to work and practice her ideals for the past 32 years.
“It’s an excellent place to work. I wouldn’t want to work any place other than Claflin. It’s a small, friendly university. Everybody practically knows everybody. As far as the office, there are three females in the office. There is never any fussing or fighting. We disagree, but it’s never a day that you could walk in and say, ‘Oh, I wish I didn’t have to be here with her.’ That’s not the atmosphere that we have in the president’s office here,” Williams said.
While she has no children, Williams said she has plenty of nieces and nephews within whom she and her siblings try to instill good character.
“Sometimes they say we’re old-fashioned, but they appreciate it. I see them as my children, and they look at me as being their mom. Although their mothers and fathers are alive, I just love children. I love people. I love helping people, but mainly (in) the background. I’m not a person who’s out there wanting to be in the limelight,” Williams said, adding that her mother told her, “Always do what is right and not what is easy. Trust in God, and God will bless you.”
Williams said she believes the Orangeburg County Community of Character is a worthwhile initiative. While defining someone’s character is not always easy, the initiative helps set the platform upon which role models can be spotlighted within the community, she said.
“When I see persons in the community, I look at their character as to how they’re respected and what they’re doing. That helps me. I was just truly elated that someone would think that much about me and my character to nominate me and then receive the support from others,” she said.