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Michael Ronan Williams, Ph.D.


Mike Williams has died as he lived- peacefully, gently, and with a nobility of spirit.

We grieve his loss and celebrate his life. Mike was supportive, loving and self-effacing in all his relationships and leaves an example that guides us. He could not have been a better husband, Dad or Poppy, brother or friend.

During his Milwaukee years, he was a member of Students United for Racial Equality at Marquette, challenging the University’s silence on societal inequities and among other efforts marching with Father Groppi to bring awareness and change to segregationist housing ordinances and practices. Ethically committed to non-violence he questioned the Vietnam War supporting friends among the Milwaukee 14 and other such actions of resistance and peace-making. It was at this time, in the midst of these activities that he met and married Mary Alice and began a family. They relocated to Grand Rapids MI in 1974.

He was by vocation a teacher who for more than sixty years, touched the lives of students in settings as varied as pre-school, middle school, high school and college. He was co-founder and administrator of Highland Community School in Milwaukee.

Mike had a classical Jesuit education and earned advanced degrees in philosophy, mechanical engineering and urban education. Building on this background, he gave forty years of service to Aquinas College as a cross-disciplinary Professor, Faculty Development Director, representative for the Eastown Project, creator of the academic Community Leadership Program, Director of the Semester in Ireland Program and Dean of the School of Education. After retiring he volunteered with the campus Writing Center, an opportunity to contribute and stay connected to young people which brought him great joy. He was named Professor Emeritus on retirement and was later inducted into the Aquinas College Hall of Fame.

He was an active volunteer and board member of the Eastown Community Association.  He was on the board of the Council of Neighborhood Associations (CONA); board member of SEED in early efforts that led to the development of Uptown; and a member of the Rabbit 14 as a named defendant. He was appointed to several task forces of the Grand Rapids Public Schools.  He served on the board of Planned Parenthood of West Michigan and was an advocate for reproductive choice. He had a passion for justice, racial equity, community building and peace-making that played out in steady behind-the-scenes efforts to advance the beloved community.

Mike wrote three books on topics of neighborhood organizing, urban school reform, and parent involvement. He also contributed essays to a book on Eastown. He was revising a manuscript on Love in his final years.

He played basketball well into his seventies, scored two holes in one on public golf courses and walked to work every day. He rooted for Detroit teams always, but was most of all a die-hard Notre Dame fan.  He had an enviable tenor voice put to best use singing to his adoring girls who never tired of his rendition of Scarlet Ribbons.

A native of Detroit, Mike was the eldest child of the late David Wynn Williams and Florence Ronan who provided an idyllic childhood for him. He is survived and missed by those most blessed by his daily love and devotion: Mary Alice, his life partner and dearest friend for more than 55 years; his cherished daughters Dr. Christa Williams of Minneapolis and Cara Williams Gardner of Grand Rapids; Jason Gardner, Cara’s husband who was as a son to him; and his beloved grandsons, Nolan and Aidan Gardner who loved their Poppy and enriched his later years.

He is also survived by loved siblings, Thomas Williams, Sheila Mc Logan, and David Williams; sisters-in-law Shirley Williams, Anne Peckham, Marianne Kerns Peckham, Susan Vargas Peckham; niece Katie Mc Logan, nephew Kevin Mc Logan; Ronan, Walsh, Lovell and Williams cousins.  He is also survived by The Golf Buds, those special Aquinas friends who were loyal comrades to the end; the hundreds of students he taught and kept track of, whose successes and sorrows mattered to him; respected Aquinas colleagues including many Dominican Sisters; and long-time close friends who are like family in Grand Rapids, Milwaukee and Philadelphia.  Beloved nephews Tommy and Peter Williams died before him at too-young an age, as did five missed Peckham brothers-in-law.

Mike was most appreciative of his Corewell Hospice team which enabled him to die at home as he desired and provided comfort care in the final five months of his life as he experienced the diminishments of Parkinson’s Disease.  Ever the philosopher, Mike spoke of coming into the end zone and going toward the light with curiosity, retrospection and an openness to the unknown.

We honor Mike by asking and acting on the question “Who is my neighbor?” which guided his teaching, writing and relationships with all. By engaging as informed citizens championing democracy and resisting threats to it.  And when in doubt, by opting for mercy and compassion.

A Celebration of Life will be held at 3pm on Saturday, August, 3, 2024, at Aquinas College Donnelly Center, 157 Woodward Lane SE, Grand Rapids, MI.

For those who choose to do so Memorial Gifts may be designated to:

The Community Leadership Program at Aquinas College

1700 Fulton St SE Grand Rapids MI 49506

or The Parkinson’s Foundation at

His memory is our blessing.

Make a Contribution

 The Community Leadership Program at Aquinas College

1700 Fulton St SE Grand Rapids MI 49506


The Parkinson’s Foundation

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31 Responses

  1. You will be forever missed Mike Williams! We will continue to cherish the many memories we shared with Poppy and Nana and our shared children and grandchildren, Jason, Cara, Nolan and Aidan.

  2. Professor Williams was one of my favorites at Aquinas College. He was so kind and knowledgeable. He lived the life he spoke about. “May the works he’s done, speak for him!” Rest peacefully, dear teacher.

  3. So very sorry for this loss of a most wonderful soul. May sweet memories be of some solace.

  4. My deepest sympathy to you Mary Alice and to the family. It is difficult to say good by to the physical presence of a loved one, but it is a greater gift to hold dear in our hearts the beautiful memories of a Lifetime shared with him. He will live forever in your heart.

  5. They don’t get any better than Mike .
    So sad to read this on a random evening in Ireland .
    So sad .
    RIP my old friend .

    slan go foill

  6. Dear Aunty Mary Alice, I am so sorry to learn of the loss of your beloved. I pray that his soul rests in peace. He (and you) were two of the most amazing humans Niyi and I met in Grand Rapids, you made us feel at home and totally welcome. I will forever cherish his kindness and yours forever.

  7. What a loss for our whole world. Mike was one of the finest, good to the core men I have ever known. We must honor his memory by continuing the fight for justice, equity, kindness and critical thinking. Much love to Mary Alice and his cherished family.

  8. Mike and I shared a shift at the AQ Writing Center together, and I will always have fond memories of our conversations together. Especially Mike’s knowing smile as we talked about social issues during my budding political awakening. His legacy will live on in all the lives he impacted, of which I’m sure there are many.

    Sending warmth and comfort to Mike’s family and loved ones.

  9. John and I have the fondest memories of you and Mike from Ireland and the years since. He was a lovely man who had a sense of humor and a great devotion to his family and students. I will always remember playing in the John Jameson Open with him in Ireland with John’s 2 golf clubs that he brought. Praying for all of you. He will be missed💙

  10. It was always a joy to visit with Mike. He was one of those people that always made you feel good about yourself.

  11. Mary Alice you & the girls & grandson’s are in my thought’s. So sorry to hear from Caitriona that Mike has passed to his eternal reward. A gentleman & friend.
    Rest in peace.

  12. Mike was a lovely person whose kindness always shone through. Rest in peace. Our heartfelt condolences to Mary Alice and family. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a h-anam.

  13. Michael was certainly a good man. He was always visable in iur community. He will be missed. Our deepest condolences to the family. The Ardoin family

  14. Mike was never less than a gentle man and a gentleman, though he could summon up a righteous anger when the cause was just. Sometimes whimsical, always thoughtful, he was a great companion at the faculty lunch table and a true, though quiet, leader on campus. It is rare to find a truly good person, so I treasured my friendship with Mike over the past 40 years. May he rest in peace now. May all of us–Mary Alice and the family and Mike’s friends–celebrate his life and know how blessed we were for having shared our lives with him.

  15. Mike made a difference in everything he touched. A beautiful soul. The world is better because of him.

  16. He had a sparkle in his eye and great wit. I wish I’d known him for a longer time. Rest now.

  17. I worked with Mike at the writing center. We had such wonderful conversations and his presence was so calming. I had no idea how beautiful his work was. What a good run. We will remember him and do our best to continue his legacy. My deepest condolences.

  18. My heart breaks for you and your family Mary Alice. I loved seeing you and Mike together in person and on Facebook. May the love & experiences you shared and memories you made together bring you joy and peace as you navigate your grief.

  19. Mike was a man that was patient, kind, funny, smart, with a nice jump shot and nice to be around. Time spent with Mike was always a great experience. My best to Mary Alice, the family and who mourn his passing.

  20. I want to Echo all the praise and admiration expressed for Mike on this page. I also want to add my thanks for his support and counsel to me during my years at AQ.

  21. I will always remember Mike’s kindness to me during our shared time at Aquinas. He once visited a Quantitative Analysis lab session to observe and discuss the types of work that happen before, after, and during a chemistry lab, the only non-scientist I have known who took the time to learn about it.

  22. I will never forget his kindness and sense of humor. What an honor to know you both. Forever in my heart.

  23. Matt and I were so sorry to hear of Mike’s passing. What a truly great man he was! Our hearts go out to you, Mary Alice. We will look for information on his celebration of life, with hopes we are able to attend.
    Love, Elise and Matt Merkel ☮️

  24. Mary Alice, Christa, Cara, Jason, Nolan and Aiden,
    How lucky to have had such a wonderful man in your lives. He left you with so many beautiful memories to treasure always. I will hold each of you in my heart during this time of adjustment.
    With much love, Ellen Ann

  25. Mary Alice & Family,
    Mike will be greatly missed! Thinking of you all always and especially during this difficult time.
    Kathleen Britsch & Abraham Durham

  26. No better ~quiet, yet determined, ~ leader ,
    ~ teacher and, ~inspirational soulmate have I ever had the pleasure and privilege of being taken under Mike & Mary Alice’s wings,… For a brief yet forever cherished time of living and learning to truly fall in love with the beautiful emerald isle of EIRE….and the Williams family. Al❤️‍🩹ha, ,,, with all my love & affection, I will truly miss Dr. Williams

  27. MaryAlice, Christa & Cara and family – What an honor and privilege it was to be students of Mike’s (and MaryAlice too) in Ireland 37 years ago! Kind, smart, curious and humble – just a few beautiful traits that we think of to describe Mike! We hope you find comfort in the days ahead! We know you’ll keep Mike’s amazing spirit alive because of his deep love expressed to you! Xoxo. Patty & John Woodhouse

  28. His passing is such a loss to the community and his many friends and family.

  29. We send our deep condolences to Mary Alice and her entire family as we celebrate and cherish Mike’s rich life. What an amazing legacy of generosity and graciousness. We especially remember his iconic service to Aquinas College and were honored to be present at a banquet there when he was inducted into the College’s Hall of Fame. His cherished spirit will live on.
    Tony and Linda Nemec Foster

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Make a Contribution

 The Community Leadership Program at Aquinas College

1700 Fulton St SE Grand Rapids MI 49506


The Parkinson’s Foundation