Williams, who had been recovering from a stroke he suffered in December 2011, died from complications of pneumonia.
Affectionately known as “Dr. Sid,” or “Doc,” Williams was described as a giant in the chiropractic profession.
“To me, he was bigger than life,” said Dr. Bobby Gise, who helped start Life University’s rugby program in 1980 as a student, and who now has a chiropractic practice in Jasper.
Marietta Mayor Steve Tumlin praised Williams.
“His entrepreneurial spirit coupled with his medical experience. He created and brought a university that we are very proud of in Marietta,” Tumlin said. “Life is well respected around the country, and it was a major contribution to our city. I always liked the name ‘Life’ because the man was full of life — his support of Life University and his support of the community and the county as a whole. I’m just proud he chose Marietta to make Life home.”
A Thursday release from Life University said at a time when the chiropractic profession was facing criticism by opponents and a powerful medical lobby, Williams and a group of prominent chiropractors founded Life with a vision of educating skilled chiropractors. Under his leadership, Life University grew to be the largest chiropractic college in the world — a distinction it continues to hold.
Williams is also credited with raising awareness, and increasing access to chiropractic care around the globe. He lobbied on behalf of the profession on a state and national level on matters relating to scope of practice and insurance regulations, never wavering in the face of criticism or pressure to compromise.
“Dr. Sid Williams was one of the most influential chiropractors of his time,” said Life University President Guy Riekeman. “He was a leader, a visionary, and his presence is felt every day on the campus of Life University. He affected millions of lives, and his legacy will live forever.”
Life University will be flying flags at half-staff for the next 30 days in tribute to Williams.
A special ceremony is also planned for Williams and his family in the coming months at the school, which has a current enrollment of 2,700 students and offers 15 degrees.
An Eagle Scout and Atlanta native, Williams graduated from Tech High School and the Georgia Institute of Technology, where he played football and was part of the 1952 Orange Bowl National Championship team. He was later inducted into the Georgia Tech Athletic Hall of Fame.
It was during his football career that Williams was exposed to chiropractic care as a result of a football injury. Amazed by the positive effects chiropractic care had given him, he opted to earn a degree at Palmer Chiropractic College in Davenport, Iowa.
He and his wife, Dr. Nell Williams, also a chiropractor, established one of the largest chiropractic practices in the country, operating up to 20 clinics at one time. Williams founded Life University in 1974 and remained president until in 2002.
Williams recruited Roger Kaiser to serve as Life’s basketball coach and athletic director in 1990.
“There’s only one Dr. Sid. We won’t have another like him,” Kaiser said.
Kaiser, a two-time All-American at Georgia Tech, instantly bonded with Williams over their shared university background, coaching Life’s basketball team to three national championships.
“He was a visionary man,” Kaiser said. “He saw all this before I did. The first question he asked me, he said, ‘can you win a national championship?’ I said, ‘I don’t know.’ He said, ‘well, you don’t act very excited.’ I said, ‘let me tell you something: I’ll act excited when we’re playing for one.’ Well, it wasn’t very long before we were playing for one.”
Kaiser said Williams saw value in the college’s athletic programs.
“Dr. Williams saw chiropractic and athletics going together,” Kaiser said. “He thought that the treatment from the chiropractic would make the athletics better. I kept telling everybody that we had an edge that no one knew about.”
It was a rare sporting event that Williams missed.
“Sometimes he’d get mad if we started a game before he got there,” Kaiser said, laughing. “I said, ‘Dr. Sid, I don’t have that right. The referee starts the game.’ But we knew he loved all of us, and he was proud of us.”
Bob Snelson, director of Marietta Water, served as Life University’s chief of operations from 1990 to 2001.
“Personally, he’s someone I had a lot of respect for,” Snelson said. “I think Dr. Williams was always willing to take risks in something he believed in and would stick with it and make sure that he could achieve success with that thought or whatever that idea was. He wasn’t afraid to step out on a limb, more or less.”
Snelson, another Georgia Tech graduate, said Williams grew Life into a university of nearly 5,000 students. At the height of its success in 2000, Williams clashed with the accreditation agency, the Council on Chiropractic Education, over differences in philosophy.
“The difficulties dealt with philosophy within the profession and as a result of those philosophy shifts, the school reorganized with a new administration,” Snelson said.
Gise, who remained close friends with Williams after graduating from Life, recalled trying to reach Williams after the university’s governing board forced Williams into retirement.
“That was pretty much like his whole life, his whole life was dedicated to building the school and the profession, and he was tremendously dedicated to that, so his whole life was pulled out from underneath him at that particular point,” Gise said. “At the worst time in his life, he told me he was going to take care of me. When I say he was a great humanitarian, he cared about people, that’s how he showed me. He was always there for me. At that particular moment when it was toughest for him, he kept his true colors.”
Williams’ daughter, Dr. Kim Williams, said her family was taking the news of her father’s passing as best they could.
“I guess we’re holding pretty good. We seem to be OK right now. We know that he’s in a better place,” she said.
Kim Williams said her father had just authored a book of daily affirmations this year, titled, “Making Lasting Purpose a Way of Life.”
Williams pushed his children to excel, his daughter said.
“He told me I could do anything a man could do and do it better,” Kim Williams said. “He was a hard driver. I mean, it didn’t matter what you did, if you made a 98 on a paper, he got mad and said, ‘why didn’t you make 100?’ He really insisted on everybody, and I mean everybody, doing their best and giving it 100 percent. Don’t do anything halfway. Persistence is the main thing that he could teach anybody.”
Williams’ colorful personality continues to mark the campus, particularly at the front gates on Barclay Circle, where a sculpture of his hands, 15-feet tall and cast in bronze, welcomes visitors.
“Those are his hands,” Gise said. “They’re representative of him using his hands to make an adjustment. That’s how certain adjustments are actually made, when you put your hands together, so for a chiropractor that’s very understandable: the healing hands that come from chiropractic or the healing that comes from chiropractic is the result of chiropractors adjusting.”
The family will receive friends from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday at Mayes Ward-Dobbins Funeral Home, 3940 Macland Road in Powder Springs. The funeral service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday at the funeral home.
In addition to his wife and daughter, Williams is survived by his son, Dr. John Sidney Williams, and three grandchildren: Shelton Krantz, Austin Krantz, and Sidney Williams.
Donations may be made to The B. J. Palmer Historic Home Foundation (bjph.org).