Few people are as persuasive, effective and data-driven in the realm of service in North Texas as Abby and Todd Williams, the couple’s colleagues say.
Since the early 2000s, the two have founded a K-12 public school that primarily serves low-income families in northwest Dallas, have successfully advocated in the Texas Legislature for investments in education and have sponsored hundreds of scholarships to increase college accessibility for local students.
But the Williamses believe the spotlight shouldn’t be on them. It belongs on the teachers, principals, superintendents and educators who labor every day, they said.
“It’s funny to hear the words ‘giving back,’” Abby Williams said. “I think that, in reality, a lot of times both Todd and I feel that we owe a great indebtedness to so many who went before us who made our public education experience so impactful.”
For their philanthropic work, the Williamses have been named recipients of the 92nd annual Linz Award, one of Dallas’ oldest and most prestigious civic honors. The award honors people whose community involvement has made a significant impact on Dallas in the last decade.
It is presented by The Dallas Morning News, the Communities Foundation of Texas and The Dallas Foundation. A luncheon honoring the couple, as well as last year’s winner, Margot Perot, is planned this fall.
Grant Moise, publisher and president of The News, said the Williamses are being honored for their “relentless pursuit to improve public education both in Dallas and across the state.”
“When I think about the core values of the Linz Award, I think of people who make Dallas a stronger city as a result of their efforts,” Moise said. “Todd and Abby continue to make Dallas a better city by ensuring all students, regardless of their background, have an opportunity to succeed through a quality education.”
The couple also founded and lead philanthropic organizations in Dallas, including United to Learn and The Commit Partnership, which aim to end inequities in education.
The Williamses said they think of their work as “locking arms with our community.” They said they’re driven by their own backgrounds. Both grew up with limited resources and said they used public education and financial aid to access the lives they wanted.
“That American dream that we believed so strongly in was not really available for a significant number of our kids,” Todd Williams said. “And so we just decided that it was important for us to do what we can to really unlock the potential in every child in the city.”
And the duo said they aren’t finished — they plan to continue their partnerships with various groups and discussions with policymakers to increase awareness on the systemic inequities holding students back.
“This recognition, while very much appreciated, is really in our minds community recognition of the importance of public education and all the people who work in that field each and every day,” Todd Williams said.
The Todd A. Williams Family Foundation is a financial supporter of the DMN Education Lab, through which The Dallas Morning News has deepened its coverage and conversation about education issues critical to the future of North Texas.
Leaders across North Texas endorsed the Williamses for the Linz Award in letters to the selection committee, with signees such as former Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa and state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas.
“Dallas is fortunate to have Todd and Abby in our community setting the example for others hopefully to follow,” said Ron Steinhart, one of the couple’s nominators and the 2008 recipient of the Linz Award.
Both of the Williamses put “enormous amounts of their time and funds” toward the education of young people, Steinhart said.
Each climbed to senior positions in investment banking and could have opted for a life of leisure, he said. Instead, they devoted themselves to philanthropy — a testament to their character, he said.
“To me, Todd and Abby stood out for their unique contribution to our community, and especially their efforts improving educational opportunities for our young people regardless of their circumstances,” Steinhart said. “We have made great progress in Dallas, and much of the credit should go to them.”