KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – While working on a U.S. Senate campaign in the 1970s, Susan Richardson Williams learned a valuable lesson in her career – do not take politics too personally.
When incumbent Sen. Bill Brock, R-Tenn., lost his 1976 re-election bid, a 31-year-old Williams was devastated after losing her first campaign and witnessing the series of Republican losses post-Watergate.
Despite this initial defeat, Williams’ career flourished, and she later worked for three Tennessee governors as well as attend nine Republican national conventions.
Williams was the first woman elected Chair of the Tennessee Republican Party, an appointed member to the TVA board, and a 12-year member of the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees. She credits the University of Tennessee, Knoxville for changing the trajectory of her life and career.
“The University of Tennessee ignited the fires in me and made me know what I really wanted to do with my life,” Williams said.
While parenting her three young children in the mid-1990s, Williams commuted Monday through Thursdays to work for former Republican Gov. Don Sundquist in Nashville, Tennessee. The commute put a strain on her family, but Williams’ youngest daughter Hallie Williams said the sacrifice opened doors for her future career.
Williams met Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., during her time in Gov. Sundquist’s office. Sen. Corker later offered her daughter Hallie an internship that turned into a 10-year staff position in his office.
“It’s a direct result of her decisions that I have been so blessed,” Hallie said.
While Williams is well-known in state politics, she has served the community through other leadership roles. Williams took a break from politics in the late 1980s and worked for the University of Tennessee Lady Vols under former Women’s Athletics Director Joan Cronan.
“Her first passion I think is politics,” Cronan said. “I’m just glad her second was athletics and UT. She certainly made a difference in our program.”
According to a 2012 article from the Knoxville News Sentinel, when Williams left her position as Associate Athletics Director, the program was raising $2 million yearly and had endowed 40 scholarships.
Williams surprises many people because she is a Republican who champions conservation. In 2007 the Tennessee Wildlife Federation named Williams “Land Conservationist of the Year.”
As a member of the Legacy Parks Foundation, Williams provides insight for the preservation of nature in Knoxville. The Executive Director of Legacy Parks Foundation, Carol Evans, has known Williams for more than 20 years and calls her a loyal friend. Although they are political opposites, Evans admires Williams’ open-mindedness and leadership within male-dominated organizations.
“She’s had to lead in earlier times, a lot in a man’s world,” Evans said. “She had to be sometimes the one woman in the room.”
Over the last two decades, Williams launched her public affairs consulting firm SRW & Associates while also raising two of her grandchildren, Jordan and Janae.
In her spare time, Williams enjoys painting for family and friends. One of Williams’ paintings hangs in Hallie’s apartment in Washington, D.C. and Hallie said it is her favorite decoration. The artwork depicts a silver and gold architectural landscape of Knoxville.
Hallie said her mother has taught her an important lesson that defined Susan Williams’ career.
“She has been really helpful when I would take it too personally to remind me that it’s just politics,” Hallie said.