L. Pearce Williams
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Williams, L. Pearce

L. Pearce Williams, professor emeritus in the History of Science at Cornell University, died February 8, 2015, at Cayuga Medical Center in Ithaca, NY, at the age of 87. A tall and imposing figure, he revelled in the teaching of both the History of Science and the History of Western Civilization, and enjoyed giving his presentation, "The Notorius Note-Taking Lecture," to students entering the university during his years as a chair professor at Cornell. Williams is survived by his devoted wife of 65 years, Sylvia Alessandrini Williams, as well as his four children: Dave Williams of Newark, Ohio, and his two children Linus and Vivian; Alison Williams Lewin of Wilmington, Delaware, and her three children, Eleanor with spouse James, Sylvia, and Gregory with spouse Madeline; Adam Williams and his companion Lynne Frey of Camden, Maine; and Sarah Bonnefoi and spouse Marc of Basking Ridge, New Jersey, and their four children, Marie, Anne, Elena and Theo. Pearce enrolled at Cornell University in 1944 as a chemical engineer, but immediately left Cornell for a year's service in the US Navy. Upon his return to the university, he found his lifelong passion for history of science through a required course taught by the late Henri Guerlac. Pearce graduated from Cornell with honors with a BA in 1949, and then pursued a Ph.D. at Cornell, which he completed in 1952. He taught at Yale and the University of Delaware, and was delighted to return to teach at his alma mater in 1960. His biography of Michael Faraday won the Pfizer Prize and he authored several other books and numerous articles in his field. He often expressed his opinions on various issues to the Ithaca Journal and the Cornell Daily Sun, gaining him a certain local notoriety, or fame, depending on one's point of view. Pearce's more physical activities included hunting with his beloved Weimeraners, gaining a black belt in karate, playing touch football games with his colleagues and students on Sundays, and wood chopping, a benefit of which was his hours spent by his fireside. A memorial service will be held later in the year; time and place will be forthcoming. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Pearce's second home: The Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Carl A. Kroch Library, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853. Through his diverse and varied pursuits, Pearce touched many lives. As he would have said, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith," (2 Timothy 4:7 KJV).




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Published in Ithaca Journal on Feb. 9, 2015.
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15 entries
May 4, 2015
I had the pleasure of being a student in Mr. Williams' discussion class in History 10 at Yale during my freshman year 1952-53. Our discussions were a;ways lively to the extent that he named us "the class of dissension". At the end of the year we gave Mr. Williams a silver tray inscribed "From the Class of Dissension". Mr. Williams will always be remembered by me as one of the most stimulating,kind and honest teachers I have ever known.
George Teebor BS Yale '56, MD 1961 Yeshiva University
George Teebor
March 15, 2015
Professor Williams had a profound influence on me. He brought a bright, fierce intelligence to every topic. Remembering his spell-binding History of Western Civilization lecture, "The End of Civilization,"about World War I still brings tears to my eyes.

Dave DuPont '80
David DuPont
February 13, 2015
Just learned the very very sad personal news that my former great mentor, and the person, who probably had the greatest influence on my life and outlook, passed away - L. Pearce Williams, an incredible and remarkable professor at Cornell University, who generously gave so much special time to me during my years there (76 - 80). At the time, on campus, he was more popular than Sagan as a professor, and his lectures were packed for good reason. In some ways, he cursed me because he instilled in me the need to seek excellence in a world that mainly desires mediocrity, and to always break new ground, dig deep, do the work oneself, and not parrot. My countless adventures with him are burned into my memory like yesterday or even today, they have never faded and never will, and continued long after I left Cornell. Once, I asked him why he took such an interest in me, and how I could ever pay him back, and he told me to do what he did to me to as many people as I could, and that's what I did. I have tried to live up to that promise for the past 40 years! I do not know where I would be or how I would have turned out, had I not been taken under his wing. He was the Best Man at my first marriage, comforted me when my first dog died, and yelled at me when I thought I had "solved" the problem of free will (I was not even close!). What times, what adventures. He will always live on, and had a life deeply and richly filled. So, many memories, even my first one, when I entered his office, and he was towering over some freshman, going on in an exasperated tone, "How many times do I have to state that "it's" is not possessive!" He was a remarkable man with an incredible moral compass that never wavered, and while we came to disagree about some things in politics, he was never the one who didn't practice what he preached. Or preached what he didn't practice. He was a shinning light for me and for countless others who were fortunate to come into his beacon. Later, he was kind enough to privately tutor my daughter Liz for a summer, and I am glad that she got to meet him. On an invited lecture at Cornell, Isabel got to meet him too. I gave the President's lecture there in the largest auditorium. It was packed, and the end of the talk was dedicated to him, and I know that it brought a tear to his eye. Some people are grateful for the positive that they bring to the world and to others. The world for me got much dimmer tonight, but the light still shines, as it continues brightly inside of me, and also, inside the many others who he touched.
Al
February 13, 2015
Professor Williams was a wonderful introduction to the history department at Cornell for me. I remember one lecture during which he lamented how we "young people" wasted water and soap with our obsession with cleanliness and showering too much! My thoughts are with his family.
Jen Gray Moss '91
February 12, 2015
L. Pearce Williams was a pillar in my education at Cornell University. His course on western history was a thinly veiled exercise in how to use logic and reasoning and, above all, how to write. As a scientist, it's made all the difference in my life. I will always be thankful for his dedication to undergraduate learning, and convincing me to take his course.

Todd C. LaJeunesse
Class of 91
Todd LaJeunesse
February 12, 2015
Professor Williams was the best professor I had at Cornell. I took four of his classes and would wake up early on Friday mornings to trudge up Libe Slope, often in the snow, just to be part of his 8 a.m. section. I became a history major because of his classes. My sincerest condolences.
Tamar Terzian
February 11, 2015
Just went up to the attic to find the papers I wrote for him; they are practically from the Middle Ages at this point. Great coach; can't say I really enjoyed the first semester, and certainly didn't go back for a second, but the lessons stayed with me. He was a firm ally of the NROTC and my father when it was really needed.
Dan Meyer
February 11, 2015
Professor Williams inspired me to be a history major - one of the best decisions I ever made. He was an amazing professor. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.
Pippa Loengard '93
February 10, 2015
With sadness we heard of Pearce's passing. He was a devoted father and husband, passionate teacher, impeccable scholar, active citizen, and loyal mentor to his students. Most of all, he was larger than life--one of a kind. He will never be forgotten.
Kathryn Olesko
February 10, 2015
Dear Sylvia and family, I didn't know Pearce very well. I only knew him as the husband of Sylvia.
What an elegant couple ; the perfect compliment, one to the other, beautiful, wise and loving. My sincere condolences.
Emma Lou Sheikh
February 9, 2015
So sorry to hear about Uncle Pearce's passing. My thoughts and prayers are with Aunt Syl and all the family.
Uadajane Ketcham
February 9, 2015
Poppy was a wonderful man who sparked my interest in science and was a wonderful presence in my growing up. I remember hiking around the property with him, walking down to get mail, and hanging out with him and the dogs in the sunroom and reading. I'm going to read through some of his articles tonight. R.I.P from a loving grandson
Linus Williams
February 9, 2015
Pearce was a great mentor and the greatest, most generous friend anyone could have. He will be sorely missed, but never forgotten. May he rest in peace.
Andy Wilson
February 9, 2015
Sylvia and family. Our entire family sends our most deepest sorrows to you. We thought of Pearce as a father and grandfather figure. He was a kind, generous and intelligent man and we will forever remember him for giving us our chance at the American Dream! He will always be forever in our hearts.


Ray and Betty Poole and Family.
February 8, 2015
What a great uncle I was privileged to have. He was such an inspiration and I loved the eccentric things he did like rappelling down Barton Hall. He will be missed greatly. I will always have wonderful memories. My thoughts go out to Aunt Yi and my cousins and their families. Marce
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