This week, policy-making heavyweights, including Forward Montana, the AFL-CIO and Planned Parenthood are celebrating former U.S. Congressman Pat Williams' legacy by unveiling a new scholarship in his name and a fresh term for his political acumen: "the Williams Effect."
The new brand stems from the 75-year-old Williams' political swaggervisible in his warm handshake, steady gaze and a candor that can sometimes get him in trouble.
"I'm always kind of frankly embarrassed by this kind of recognition," Williams says.
Williams' legacy of public service is expansive. It ranges from a recent stint on the Montana Board of Regentswhere his candor got him ousted for publicly criticizing University of Montana football players engaged in unlawful behaviorto his nine terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. While in Washington, D.C., Williams helped to preserve wilderness. Perhaps most importantly for Missoula locals, he sponsored legislation that created the 61,000-acre Rattlesnake National Recreation Area and Wilderness. Williams also navigated bureaucratic red tape to help create tribal schools on the state's reservation lands and has consistently championed education and workers' rights.
Forward Montana Executive Director Kayje Booker says that it's largely Williams' work inspiring and mentoring youth that prompted the organization to create a scholarship in his name. "(He) makes them feel like they're equals," she says.
The group unveiled the new scholarship to help promote Williams' drive to engage in community service, as well as help the progressive nonprofit continue to grow. "Forward Montana has been really impressive, I think, in doing a lot with not very much," Booker says. "We are excited to take that to the next level."
As for Williams, when asked to provide his best political tip, he says nothing of a firm handshake, nor does he discuss eye contact. What's most important, he says, is to remember that individuals have the power to shape the laws that govern our daily lives.
"The government, including the federal government, is not an alien distinct force," Williams says. "It is us. It is you. That's my advice."