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Released January 7, 2003

By Donna McGuyer

HATTIESBURG – Holly Springs physician Kenneth Williams and his wife, Regina, are committed to providing health care for rural Mississippians in the future as well as now.

Through their gift of a $1 million life insurance policy to The University of Southern Mississippi, they are guaranteeing the premed scholarship endowment they recently established will be funded into perpetuity.

The couple established the Dr. Kenneth and Regina Williams Premed Scholarship through a combination pledge-and-cash donation, which will allow the Southern Miss Foundation to begin awarding an annual scholarship next fall to minority students interested in pursing a medical career.

When fully funded, the endowment will maintain the premed scholarship each year. Proceeds from the life insurance policy eventually will be added to this endowment. Dr. and Mrs. Williams also plan to offer premed students opportunities for summer employment in their Holly Springs clinic and hospital.

"The Williams's generosity not only benefits the university and students who receive the scholarships but also countless individuals needing health care in the future," said Southern Miss President Shelby Thames. "This gift is truly a now-and-forever gift that will extend Dr. and Mrs. Williams's compassion into future generations. We are truly grateful for their uncompromising generosity."

For Kenneth Williams – son, grandson, and great-grandson of dentists and physicians – there was never a question his future would hold a career in medicine; it was just something he wanted to do. His summer job in his father's Moss Point dentistry practice confirmed his belief that helping others is his calling. By introducing these scholarships and offering openings for experience in the field, Williams hopes to encourage students to enter the profession and consider job opportunities in rural settings.

"We are here for a purpose," said Williams, who completed his bachelor's in biology from Southern Miss in 1981, then earned his M.D. in 1986 at Meharry Medical College in Nashville. "While we are here on earth, our purpose is to do the best we can to try to elevate, educate and improve our generation."

Fulfilling this purpose has been a guiding force in Williams's life. Regina shares her husband's philosophy as the two work together in his practice to provide medical help to those who might otherwise be forced to travel long distances for health care. When the community was in danger of losing its ambulance service, Williams accepted the financial responsibility, even though these services typically lose money. When he learned the only hospital in the county planned to close – leaving patients the choice of going to Memphis or Oxford for hospital care – Williams did what he could to keep the facility open: He bought it.

"It may not sound like much to you or me, but a lot of people don't have transportation," said Williams. "Without these services, many would suffer."

"One concern I have as a physician is recruiting people to help in a rural setting," he added, citing a shortage of African-American medical practitioners. "Most new doctors gravitate toward the city or large population areas. There is a particular need for physicians who are interested in rural areas."

Although Williams's practice is financially successful, he said it has been a struggle to get other physicians interested in joining him. Two years ago he recruited his best friend, who had trained with him as a physician but had become a professor at Wayne State University.

"I shouldn't have had to lean on friendship to twist someone's arm to come work because we really have an excellent practice," said Williams. "And it's nothing like rural patients to make you enjoy your work. You really feel like you are doing something." Ben Samel, Southern Miss associate director of development planned giving, said life insurance is an excellent planning tool for those who wish to leave a sizable gift to the university. "During their lifetime, Regina and Kenneth will have the opportunity to see the fruits of their labor through the annual scholarship and the assurance their endowment will be well funded in the future," he said.

The Williamses reside in Collierville, Tenn., which is in easy driving range of Holly Springs. They have five children: Kelsey, Courtney, Schuyler, Parker, and Kendall.


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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM