Biography of Pat Williams
Pat Williams Biography
Pat Williams, a third generation Montanan born in 1937 in Helena, spent his entire young life in Butte. He served nine terms -- 18 years -- in Congress (1979-93 as Western District Congressman and 1993-97 as MT’s lone Congressman) more consecutive terms in the U.S. House than anyone in Montana’s history.
Congressman Pat Williams’ career has been dedicated to strengthening America’s education system, making schools safer for our children, fighting for the underprivileged and protecting his home state of Montana’s special places for future generations. Starting as a teacher in Butte, as a state legislator, then as Montana’s Congressman and as a faculty member at the University of Montana, Pat has remained devoted to serving the people of Montana and making it a better place for future generations.
After attending Butte schools, Williams attended UM in Missoula and William Jewell College, graduating from University of Denver. He also served as a member of the National Guard and was a teacher in Butte. He was first elected to the Montana House of Representatives in 1966, serving two terms (being re-elected in 1968). During the 1969 legislature, his seatmate was Forsyth veterinarian John Melcher. When the Eastern District Congressional seat opened up, Melcher ran and won the seat in a special election in June of 1969. Pat was heavily involved in that campaign and after Melcher’s election, Pat went back to Washington, DC, where he was executive assistant to new Montana Congressman John Melcher.
Returning to Montana, Pat, wife Carol and children landed in Helena, where Pat was Montana Director of the Mountain Plains Family Education Program. During his time in Helena, Pat was a member of the Governor's Employment and Training Council from 1972 to 1978 and served on the first-ever Montana Reapportionment Commission from 1972 to 1973 (a new body created under the provisions of the new Montana Constitution in 1972).
In 1974 Williams ran an unsuccessful primary election campaign against state legislator Max Baucus and former Congressman Arnold Olsen for the Democratic Party nomination for Montana's U.S. House 1st District (Western) Representative. Pat came in second in the primary while Baucus went on to win the November elections defeating Republican Congressman Dick Shoup.
In 1978 Williams ran a successful Democratic primary campaign for the 1st District Congressional nomination against a crowded, high-quality field including state legislators Dorothy Bradley, J.D. Lynch and Gary Kimble, PSC Commissioner George Turman and former Democratic Party Chair John Bartlett (he garnered a domineering 42% in the crowded field). In November of 1978 Williams defeated Republican Jim Waltermire winning 57% percent of the vote, getting elected to the 96th U.S. Congress. Williams 1½ year “Door-to-Door to Congress” campaign set a standard for grassroots campaigning, knocking on over 50,000 doors.
In 1980 Williams won reelection against Jack McDonald with 61% of the vote; in 1982 against Bob Davies with 60%; in 1984 against Gary Carlson with 67%; in 1986 against Don Allen with 62%, 1988 against Jim Fenlason with 61%; in 1990 against Brad Johnson with 61%. In 1992 Montana lost its second seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, leaving Williams to campaign against fellow incumbent Ron Marlenee, Republican from Eastern Montana. In a tough race of two long-term incumbents, Williams narrowly won with 51% of the vote and became Montana’s lone Congressman. In 1994 he was elected to his ninth and final term, defeating Republican Cy Jamison and Independent Steve Kelly with 49% of Montana's votes, (42% for Jameson and 9% for Kelly). Williams chose not to run for reelection in 1996 and unlike so many others who never leave Washington, he and Carol returned to Montana
During his Congressional tenure, Pat’s leadership helped pass trailblazing legislation to assist hard-working middle-class families and ensure opportunities for every child. He sat on committees on: Budget, Natural Resources, Education and Labor, and Agriculture. Within Education and Labor he chaired the committees on Post-Secondary Education and Labor Management, driving landmark legislation like The College Middle Income Assistance Act. As a Deputy Whip of the U.S. House of Representatives, Pat had legislative process jurisdiction over the many congressional bills affecting workplace legislation, including sponsorship of the first piece of legislation signed into law by President Clinton: The Family and Medical Leave Act, which helped make sure workers wouldn’t lose their jobs during maternity leave or while caring for a sick family member.
Among his many other legislative accomplishments are The Toddlers and Childhood Disability Act, and sponsorship of both The Library Services and Construction Act and The Museum Services Act, which were reauthorized under his leadership.
Pat sponsored successful legislation designating both the Lee Metcalf Wilderness Area north of Yellowstone Park and the Rattlesnake Wilderness area north of Missoula, Montana. He led the successful legislative effort to save the Bob Marshall Wilderness from oil and gas exploration, and helped ban geothermal energy drilling near the borders of Yellowstone National Park.
As Chairman of The Post-Secondary Education Committee, he protected the National Endowment for the Arts from elimination, a remarkable undertaking during a very trying time for the Agency. Pat was unwavering in his defense of freedom of speech and creativity and is widely recognized as the leader who saved the NEA during the 1990’s.
Pat worked tirelessly with Tribal College Leaders to build Montana’s seven Tribal Colleges. Working together, they fought to establish the High School at the Northern Cheyenne Reservation and the Two River Eagle School on the Flathead Reservation in Pablo, Montana. He was also responsible for the legislation that created The American Conservation Corps, which became the Corporation for National Service, giving thousands of America’s young people a chance to serve their country and pursue higher education. Every state and many cities now have Conservation Corps; some cities refer to the program as “City Year.”
Since Retiring from Congress and returning to Montana, Pat has been an instructor at the University of Montana and Senior Fellow and Regional Policy Associate at the Center for the Rocky Mountain West. He is served a year as a member of the Montana Board of Regents (appointed by Governor Brian Schweitzer in 2012) and serves on a number of national education-related boards. Williams serves on the Boards of Directors for the National Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, the National Association of Job Corps, and The President's Advisory Commission for Tribal Colleges. Williams was on the board of directors of the Student Loan Marketing Association, the now disbanded GSE subsidiary of U.S.A. Education (Sallie Mae). He is also a member of the board for WAMI, a multi-state medical education program, appointed by Governor Steve Bullock. Williams also writes newspaper columns on occasion. He has honorary degrees from Carroll College in Helena, MT and Rocky Mountain College in Billings, MT.
Williams' wife Carol was elected to a seat in the Montana House of Representatives in 1999 and later to a seat in the Montana State Senate. She has served as both Minority and Majority Leader in the Montana Senate.
Pat has been married to Carol Griffith Williams since 1965. They have three children, son Griff and daughters Erin and Whitney.
Williams, Pat and Barrett, Evan, "Biography of Pat Williams" (2016). Biographies and Photos of Series Participants. 49.