University of Texas
Francis Dudley Williams
April 12,1912–December 2, 2004



Francis Dudley Williams


The following information comes from Dudley Williams’ obituary, recollections of his daughter Harriet Williams, and from his autobiography.

Francis Dudley Williams

Dudley Williams entered eternal life on Thursday, December 2, at Mesilla Valley Hospice. He was born Francis Dudley Williams to Ethel Turner and Arthur Dudley Williams in Covington, Georgia on April 12,1912. After graduation from Covington High School, financial conditions in his family led him to enroll in the academy of Lincoln Memorial University during 1929 and 1930. The school, established to educate poor students in eastern Tennessee, had a work program that would have enabled him to attend. By 1930, his family finances had improved such that his father could help him. (A family story relayed by daughter Harriet William says he was expelled for demonstrating for free speech). Many years later the school lists him as a Distinguished Alumni. Following his time at Lincoln, he was at Oxford College of Emory University. He completed his undergraduate studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1933.

He writes in his autobiography about events following his graduation, “The year 1933 was definitely not the year to graduate from college! There were no jobs for physicists or for practically anyone else. Furthermore, the graduate schools of the country were full of people with extensive experience who had lost industrial jobs in the Depression and had returned to universities for advanced training. My undergraduate requirements had been completed early in the year, so I enrolled in the graduate school for my final term at North Carolina. However, not one of my applications for graduate teaching assistants was successful—so I decided to use some carefully-hoarded saving to finance a year in graduate school at the University of Texas, where a new physics building had just been constructed and equipped in elegant fashion.

"From the outset, my academic career at Texas was a fiasco. All my correspondence had been with Professor Mather, who was listed in the catalogue as chairman of the physics department. He hinted that some kind of assistantship might be available later in the year. When I arrived in Austin, I reported to Mather for suggestions as to enrollment. He had all my letters of recommendation and a transcript of my record carefully collected in a folder. After registering me for a strange set of courses, Mather returned my folder to his own filing case and said: “Now perhaps I should take you down and introduce you to our department chairman.” The department chairman was Arnold Romberg, who was pleasantly cordial, but had obviously never heard of me before. My credentials had never reached the department chairman or any other faculty members actually involved in granting assistantships! Needless to say, I was badly shaken. The only bright spot in my first day at Texas was meeting a beautiful brunette in a yellow dress who was in Romberg’s office when Mather took me there for an introduction. The girl’s name was Loraine Decherd, a graduate student in physics.

"Most of the physics courses, for which Mather enrolled me, proved to duplicate courses I had taken earlier. The only exception was a course on vacuum-tube circuits under C. P. Boner. Two courses on “differential equations” were included; these were very interesting. The one in the pure mathematics department actually dealt with topology, know locally a “point-set theory.” The other course in the department of applied mathematics, taught by H. V. Craig, was actually a course on number theory and was thoroughly delightful. Although the physics department at Texas was large one for the time, there was no general colloquium and there seemed to be little interest in the exciting current developments in physics. Interest in research was restrained, to say the least, and seem to lie in applications of physics to practical problems encountered in geophysical methods of prospecting for petroleum. After a few months, I decided that the University of Texas was not for me! (Some of my fellow graduate students at Texas went on to successful careers in geophysics with leading oil companies. After a few more years, Dr. Romberg retired from the university and eventually became very wealthy by leasing the gravity meters he had invented to oil companies."

Williams then moved to the University of Virginia and finally Chapel Hill. His graduate degrees were both conferred by the University of North Carolina: AB, MSA (1934) and PhD (1936). His thesis was on infrared spectroscopy. In 1937, he married Loraine Decherd. A son and a daughter were born to this union. His first teaching and research experience was at the University of Florida in Gainesville (1936–1941). Although most of his professional work was done at universities, his university career was interrupted by World War II.

His war research was done at the Radiation Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1941–1943) where he took part in the development of microwave radar, and at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory in New Mexico (1943–1946), where he took part in the development of the atomic bomb. At the Trinity Test of the first bomb explosion, he worked at the nearest occupied shelter and measured the total thermal radiation from the bomb. At the end of the war, he returned to teaching. From 1946 to 1963, he was on the faculty of Ohio State University where he had a successful research career. He was the co-author with George Shortley of a college physics textbook that remained in print for 30 years and was used by approximately 400,000 students of science and engineering in various parts of the world. During three of his seventeen years at Ohio State, Williams was acting head of the department of physics. He left because of loyalty oath imposition by the regents. He spent a year at North Carolina State University where he served as chair. In early 1964, he accepted a Regents Professorship at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas, where he remained until 1982.

He was the president of the Optical Society of America from 1976 to 1980. He was a Guggenheim Fellow at Amsterdam, Netherlands and at Oxford, United Kingdom in 1956. From 1961–1962, he was the National Science Foundation’s Senior Post-Doctoral Fellow at the University for Astrophysics at the University of Liege in Belgium and at the National Physical Laboratory at Teddington in the United Kingdom.

He was predeceased by his first wife Loraine in 1988. He is survived by his wife, Marie Sovereign Williams, his son Frank Williams and daughter-in-law Cally Williams of Mesilla Park, and his daughter, Harriet Williams of Scottsdale, Arizona, four granddaughters and three great grandchildren.

A memorial service for Dr. Williams was held in Stucky Auditorium at the University Terrace Good Samaritan Village at 3 p.m. on Friday, December 10. Arrangements were in the care of Graham’s Mortuary. If desired, memorial gifts may be directed in his name to Good Samaritan Village or to Mesilla Valley Hospice.

Francis Dudley Williams Photo

Loraine Dechard and Dudley Williams


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