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Remembering Dr. Willis David Hawley 1938-2021

Donate to the Willis Hawley Education Excellence & Equity Fund 

Contributions in celebration of Dr. Hawley’s memory can be made here


Beloved husband, father, activist, and ERS board member Willis D. Hawley (Bill) passed away on Wednesday, November 17th of natural causes, at his home in Bethesda, Maryland, surrounded in the love of his three daughters (Karen, Jan and Meagan), their husbands (Michael Miles, Thomas Moore, and Thomas Ulrich) , his brother, Gary and eight grandchildren (Zachary, Mike, Nikki, Hawley, Danielle, Amanda, Hailey and T.J.) He leaves an extraordinary legacy of academic leadership, public service, and family.   

Born in San Francisco to a schoolteacher, he attended the University of California, Berkeley where he earned three degrees including a Phd in Political Science. He served in the Army intelligence after college where he earned the distinction of “Sharp-shooter”.  He loved to describe how he and his wife Carolyn found the food so lacking at the Army Base in Fort Benning Georgia, they started a small business making and selling sandwiches.  

His early research on school integration helped to show the benefits of attending school with children from different races on attitudes and understanding, and refuted assertions that it might reduce academic achievement. He taught at Yale, Duke, Vanderbilt and the University of Maryland—taking particular pride in serving as dissertation advisor for many students who benefitted from the exacting standards and detailed feedback he provided and who have gone on to successful careers in academia and practice.  

He helped to found the Institute of Policy Studies and Public Affairs at Duke University during the 1970s, which has since grown into one of the leading public policy schools, but then just a small, energetic group of young scholars determined to change the world. During this time, he took a leave from university duties to support President Jimmy Carter in establishing the US Department of Education. He then became Dean of the Peabody School of Education, Vanderbilt where he further extended the reputation of the school as a pre-eminent player in the field and encouraged a distinguished and diverse group of researchers to join the work. After a decade at Peabody, he served as the Dean of the College of Education at the University of Maryland from 1993 to 1998. While there, he helped found and directed the Common Destiny Alliance, a coalition of 30 national organizations and numerous scholars committed to improving race relations and educational equity.   

He published numerous books, articles, and book chapters dealing with teacher education, school reform, urban politics, political learning, organizational change, school desegregation, and educational policy. He relished the collaboration with so many thought leaders and researchers who referred to with pride and fondness. He has served as consultant to public agencies, including the Executive Office of the President, the U.S. Senate, the U.S. Department of Education, and the World Bank, as well as many state and local governments, foundations, and professional associations.  

Fittingly, he ended his career - working until the very end - with a decade of work as Special Master in a court desegregation case in the district of Tuscon, Arizona where he brought his passion for racial and economic equity together with his deep understanding of how to improve schools and teaching together to support the district in implementing a comprehensive approach to improving schools for every child.  

He loved to play tennis, golf, buy clothes for his wife and grandchildren, travel with Carolyn and fix up the many houses he lived in. Even as he seemed to many to work “day and night”, he was deeply involved in raising his children and grandchildren and found joy and pride in spending time with them as adults. He attended sporting events, recitals of all kinds, never missed a graduation or special event celebration and savored a friendly family competition of any type. When reflecting on his life, he would often share that he felt his greatest accomplishment was convincing his wife to marry him. Though she passed away in 2008, he kept her close to his heart - as we will keep them both.  

The family will hold a celebration of his life at St. Thomas the Apostle, Washington D.C. at 2 p.m. on January 8, 2022.  

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