Don Williams
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Don Williams is a prize-winning columnist, blogger, fiction writer, sometime TV commentator, and is the founder and editor emeritus of New Millennium Writings, an annual anthology of stories, essays and poems. His awards include a National Endowment for the Humanities Journalism Fellowship at the University of Michigan, a Golden Presscard Award from Sigma Delta Chi Society of Professional Journalists, a best Commentary Award from SDC, Best Feature Writing from the Associated Press Tennessee Managing Editors, the Malcolm Law Journalism Prize from the Associated Press, Best Non-Deadline Reporting from the United Press International, Best Novel Excerpt from the Knoxville Writers Guild, a Peacemaker Award from the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, five Writer of the Month Awards from the Scripps Howard Newspaper chain, and many others. In 2011 he was inducted into the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame. His 2005 book of journalism, Heroes, Sheroes and Zeroes is under revision for a second printing, and he is at work on a novel and a book of journalism. His columns appear at and have been featured at many other well-known websites. To run his column, gratis, at your website, post this link to a dedicated spot: Need a speaker, panelist, tv commentator or teacher for your group or to lead a writing workshop, in your town? Email

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Richard Marius: Novelist, historian, and seeker of truths, will be missed
(Copyright by Don Williams, All rights reserved   11/12/1999)

On Sunday morning, Nov. 7, a friend phoned to say Richard Marius had died. The pancreatic cancer that for years had gnawed at him like remorse, finally killed him on Friday, Nov. 5.

Sunday afternoon, during a reading I emceed at Davis-Kidd Booksellers, I felt compelled to say a few words in memory of the man.

I mentioned Richards East Tennessee roots and uttered something about his life-long quest toward 'a reconciliation with the universe.'

It was a badly garbled pronouncement. I had meant to say something about his early call to the ministry, his later disaffection with organized religion, and his acknowledgment of a spiritual side later in life. I knew what I meant, but the best you could say about what I actually said, was that at least I hadnt ignored him.

Bless him or curse him--and plenty of people did one or both throughout his lifetime--you could hardly ignore Richard Marius.

He was too controversial, accomplished, charismatic, for that.

Take that open laugh, those flashing brown eyes. The way stories crowded out of his mustachioed mouth in a baritone that climbed to tenor in the exciting parts. Consider his accomplishments. Four novels published, with several others in various stages of completion, all rooted in East Tennessee history and lore. Two biographies--Sir Thomas More and Martin Luther--that have become touchstones of religious scholarship. A teaching career that included the University of Tennessee and Harvard, where, as director of expository writing, he oversaw a staff of 40.

He established a 'Governors Academy for Teachers of Writing,' that met each summer at UT for years, garnering the affection of hundreds of Tennessee school teachers who carried his enthusiasm for language back home to thousands of school children.

More than any of these things, however, Richard was famous for controversy.

It may be that all you remember about Richard is that Al Gore fired him as a speechwriter for alleged anti-Semitic sentiments. Lets dispose of that baseless charge right now. Whatever Richard was, he was no anti-Semite.

I believe this, because right after the story broke that Gore had fired Marius, I read his offending remarks, then phoned several Jewish acquaintances of Richards, and to a person they denounced Gores action and affirmed their faith in Richard. Milton Klein, the esteemed UT history professor, was adamant in defending Richard at a public meeting.

Admittedly, what Marius wrote wasnt politically correct, if youll pardon the cliche. Heres the worst of Richards article that appeared in 'Harvard Magazine:' 'Many Israelis, the Holocaust fresh in their memory, believe that that horror gives them the right to inflict horror on others... The brutality of the Shin Bet, the Israeli secret police, is eerily similar to the stories of the Gestapo.'

Richard always had a knack for making provocative statements and getting himself in trouble on campus. His anti-Vietnam War pronouncements at UT in the 1960s, prompted so many threats on his family, and phone calls in the night, that he bought a Smith & Wesson revolver, which he sometimes slept with.

I was a student at UT when he wrote an article in 'The Daily Beacon' to the effect that his most intelligent friends were atheists. For weeks afterward, letters to the editor appeared in The Beacon, beginning with words like, 'I used to consider myself one of Richard Mariuss intelligent friends....'

Like most seekers, however, Richard softened over the years, and after the reading at Davis-Kidd, one of his long-time friends and admirers came up to me and said, 'He was a very spiritual man.' I thought back to an interview I conducted with him in 1990. Recently I looked up the resulting article.

It was all about his love of East Tennessee, and about how his writing is grounded in an appreciation of old-timers he met while working at a newspaper in Lenoir City. I wrote that Richard 'now professes a religious faith,' that he was active in the Harvard Memorial Church, and that he talked about how he 'often felt a religious transcendence.' I remembered that Richard had spoken of looking at a stained glass window and of recognizing at once the beauty of the natural world and the spiritual nature of the art that celebrates that world.

'There came a time that I thought I might as well admit that some force in the world allows me to experience the beauty of the world,' Richard said during that long-ago interview. As if in summation, he added, 'Religion is wonderful when it seeks, terrible when it finds.'

Richard was a seeker. And in his life-long quest, that process of seeking became itself an expression of faith.

And thats what I meant to say at Davis-Kidd on Sunday, Nov. 7.