Bruce Williams: more give than take


Bruce H. Williams was 13 when his mother died. Bereaved by her death and beset with the usual problems of adolescence, he was a prime candidate for trouble. Thanks to his caring family, two male teachers who wanted to see him succeed, and ambitious college classmates, Mr. Williams, a Washington native, says he was able to "make the right choices."

He went on to earn bachelor's and master's degrees from Howard University and, eventually, landed a place in corporate America. Currently, he is business unit executive of IBM's Maryland sales force that handles accounts with new and small businesses. He supervises 50 sales representatives who call on 1,500 business customers.

Sitting in his office -- which has a picture-postcard view of Harborplace -- he is surrounded by a picture of his two sons, and engraved crystal objects and wooden plaques congratulating him on various achievements in business and other pursuits.

It wasn't long ago that Mr. Williams didn't even dream of attaining such a position. In fact, as a teen-ager he hadn't even planned to go to college until his high school football coach helped him to get a football scholarship at Howard University.

At Howard, suddenly, he was "going to school with a lot of very bright people who were ambitious in a lot of different areas." He says that exposure gave him the self-confidence to set some ambitious career goals and reach them.

After receiving his master's in education administration from Howard, he went to work for the Phelps Stokes Fund, a Washington foundation that helps black colleges with long-range planning and financial development. After two years, he left for IBM, where he has received six promotions in 13 years. In 1989, he opened his "branch office," which had been part of another division.

Shortly after that office opened, he began to get involved in volunteer work because IBM encourages its employees to volunteer.

"I was looking to get involved in things -- not social clubs, or that sort of thing -- but things that would make an impact and a difference in somebody's life," Mr. Williams said.

Among his volunteer activities is the Dunbar Project, a fledgling program (named for Dunbar Middle School) that plans to provide a range of services -- mental and physical health services, after-school activities and others to Dunbar and four other elementary and middle schools. The goal is to help kids from disadvantaged backgrounds stay in school and avoid trouble.

Becky Hornbeck, program officer of the Baltimore Community Foundation -- which directs the project -- asked Mr. Williams to join its advisory board as its sole business community representative.

"He is a wonderful resource to us," Ms. Hornbeck said. "He has made us set some specific goals and objectives."

In 1990, Mr. Williams was selected for the 22-member Maryland Special Olympics board of directors, which sponsors athletic events for the mentally retarded; he is chairman of the board for 1991-92.

One of his goals is to get more volunteers involved in Special Olympics. Toward that end, the organization has, for the first time, hired a full-time staff member to work with volunteers in Baltimore to increase the number of people involved and the number of activities offered.

His two sons, ages 7 and 9, and Tresa, his wife of 11 years, participate in his volunteer efforts to the extent they can -- attending Special Olympics events and helping serve Thanksgiving dinner to the homeless at community activist Bea Gaddy's annual feast. The family lives in Ellicott City. His six sisters, one brother and his father, a U.S. Government Printing Office retiree, live in and around Washington.

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