Janet Williams

12 November 2008

Janet Susan Williams, associate director of development for the UC Botanical Garden, passed away peacefully Oct. 28 at the age of 54, with her family by her side.

Williams joined the UC Botanical Garden in February 1999 and immediately assumed a staggering portfolio of duties that touched on every aspect of the garden. In addition to being the sole fundraiser for the nation’s leading university garden, she was responsible for membership, marketing, publicity, and public relations.

Because the garden was relatively new to such public-outreach efforts, Williams assumed the burden of developing and refining all of these programs. This brought her into contact not only with the large community of garden supporters but the general public as well, while she worked to expand recognition of the garden through the media.

“When I assumed the directorship in 2003, I expected to meet a large, hard-working development staff, but discovered that I had met them all when I met Janet,” said garden director Paul Licht, a professor emeritus of integrative biology.

While her formal training in fundraising was important to these tasks, her success in all of these endeavors was facilitated by her keen sense of design, high ethical standards, and what one long-serving docent described as an “ability to make both old and new members of the garden community feel welcome and a part of the whole.”

Williams soon became the garden’s de facto photographer, in part because of her love of photography but also because of her love of plants, gardening, and the garden. She left a legacy of thousands of images that demonstrate her sense of design and her love of her subjects. These images have been used extensively to represent the garden in internal publications and in media outreach.

Under Williams’ supervision the garden was able to raise funds for a renovation of its entrance and several major new projects, such as the carnivorous-plant, orchid, and South African Eastern Cape Province displays. Her membership and annual-fund campaigns grew the membership base and helped raise critical funding for all aspects of the garden. She also expanded the tribute-bench program, which has brought comfort to many families.

Williams was born in Meeniyan, a small town in Victoria, Australia. She earned a bachelor of arts degree in 1975 and a bachelor of education in 1976, both from the University of Melbourne. She started her career as an English specialist at East Doncaster Secondary College and Matthew Flinder’s Girls Secondary College in Victoria.

She immigrated to the United States with her husband, Mark Wilson, in the mid-1980s and later earned a development director certificate from the University of San Francisco. She held a variety of positions in development and fundraising before joining the staff of the Botanical Garden.

She is survived by her husband, Professor of Education Mark Wilson, of Berkeley; her son, Alistair, of Kensington; and her daughter, Penelope, now attending the University of Oregon.

Williams’ family has requested that donations in her memory be made to the UC Botanical Garden. A memorial bench will be installed in her “home area,” the Australasian area of the garden, as part of a tribute-bench program that Williams took much pride in developing.

Donations may be made to the UC Botanical Garden, 200 Centennial Drive, Berkeley, CA, 94720, designated for the Janet Williams Fund. Checks should be made payable to The Regents of the University of California.

— Nancy Nelson