Hokie Time Travel

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Rebecca Williams with her father, Philip Williams, in the stacks in Special Collections.
Rebecca Williams with her father, Philip Williams, in the stacks in Special Collections.

For Rebecca Williams, working in Newman Library’s Special Collections meant traveling through time to meet her parents as mid-80s college students.

On her first day, Rebecca intentionally sought a copy of “The Bugle” to search for her mom, then-Vicki Higginbotham, the engineering, baton-twirling majorette, and her dad, Philip Williams, forward on the men’s basketball team from 1983 to 1987. She quickly found Vicki ’86, M.S. ’88 and Philip ’88, the middle generation of a Hokie family that also includes Vicki’s mother, Betty Higginbotham, who has worked in the Department of Statistics for nearly a half-century, and Philip’s father, Associate Professor Emeritus in Residence Clayton Williams in the Department of Physics.

Rebecca, who earned her bachelor’s in history in 2015, followed by her master’s in 2017, worked in Special Collections for another two years, and in early 2018, while organizing boxes, she made an unexpected discovery. “I came across a couple of boxes that said ‘basketball programs’,” she said. “I opened them up and found programs from ’84 to ’86. I started flipping through covers and found [my dad].”

Philip Williams, who graduated in 1988 with a political science degree, was featured on one cover by himself and shared another with Dell Curry, an all-time Cassell Coliseum-banner legend who went on to a successful NBA career.

Rebecca laughed as she flipped through photos of Philip posing next to his stats. In one guide, he listed his favorite recording artist as Johann Sebastian Bach. “We liked to mess with those reporters back then,” Philip said in early April, sitting with Rebecca at a table outside Special Collections. “I did like Bach, but I was fooling around.”

Finding the archived basketball programs helped Rebecca connect faces with the stories she’s heard through the years, and the experience prompted her to write a blog post.

“The [story] she shared in her blog post is a good one,” said Philip. “It involved our superstar, Dell Curry. During practice one day in the middle of the season, there was some typical tussling and scrapping over a rebound. In that struggle, I accidentally dislocated Dell’s shoulder. This is the middle of the season; you can imagine that was fairly shocking and traumatic for me in particular, because I was the one who did it. There were two things that were fortunate about that. Number one, Dell was very flexible in his shoulders, so that helped prevent for him what would have been a serious injury for someone else. We also we had our trainer and med staff right there to pop it back in immediately.”

Curry, who graduated in 1990 with a degree in sociology, was well enough to play the next game, and he went on to a long career in the NBA, but the moment left an impression on Phil Williams, who has been telling it since: “I hurt the best player in Tech history and almost dramatically altered our team’s fortunes that year.”

Rebecca Williams and her father with a program that featured Philip Williams on the cover.
Rebecca Williams and her father with a program that featured Philip Williams on the cover.

Rebecca Williams finished her position at Special Collections in early April, and she is beginning the next stage of her life. But she’s taking with her the memory of finding that box and making new connections to further strengthen an already tight-knit family.

“Even when I’m working in unfamiliar collections, I find that I’m surprised by the connections I can make based on my own,” she said. “That’s the joy of working in Special Collections: Even the most rudimentary tasks have the potential to lead to the greatest discoveries.”

Hidden treasure: Read Rebecca Williams’ blog post about exploring her parents’s Hokie past.

Written by Mason Adams, this article appeared in the Summer 2018 edition of Virginia Tech Magazine and is reprinted with permission.