October 24, 2018
Pat Bell
Patricia Bell Williams, BSPharm’68, wearing her grandmothers academic regalia from 1913 at the College's Emeritus Commencement Celebration.

Patricia Bell Williams, BSPharm’68, carefully smooths out the soft creases in the front of her robe. She takes great care as she tucks the pleats into place, and with good reason. The academic regalia she is donning for the emeritus commencement ceremony was originally worn by her grandmother over 100 years ago. Pat is upholding a family tradition; she is a member of a long line of Michigan women to wear these robes as they walk across the stage to receive their U-M diploma.

Pat is back in Ann Arbor to mark 50 years since she earned her degree from the College of Pharmacy. In the intervening years, she has enjoyed a successful career.

“The gown was first worn by my grandmother, Maude Evelyn Talbott, on her graduation day in June 1913,” says Pat. “In those days, caps and gowns were worn three days a week for about six weeks prior to graduation after ‘Swing Out’, a formal event celebrating the first time a graduating class would be seen in their cap and gown.” Maude majored in English Literature and worked as an English and German teacher.

Her daughter, Letitia Lingle Bell, wore the gown when she graduated from U-M with an undergraduate degree in Physical Therapy in 1952 and again in 1954 when she received her certificate in Physical Therapy. “As I recall, she was in the first, or one of the first, physical therapy classes at U-M,” notes Pat. “The family lore is that she started out in pre-med but was diagnosed with a heart murmur. At that time, she was considered ‘too delicate’ for the rigors of medical school and transitioned to physical therapy. She practiced physical therapy for over 50 years….so much for ‘too delicate!’”

After a long hiatus, Pat wore the gown when she graduated from the U-M College Pharmacy in 1968 and when she earned a PhD in Pharmacology from Medical College of Virginia (now part of Virginia Commonwealth University) in 1972. “At that time, my PhD advisor presented me with the hood as a graduation gift,” says Pat.

“I joined the newly formed Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, VA as one of their first faculty members,” explains Pat. “The first class of 24 medical students graduated in 1973; I wore the cap, gown and hood at that and subsequent graduations until 2013, when I retired. From 1979-1993, I served as the Associate Marshal for graduation and from 1994 to 2013 served as the Chief Marshal, who organized and presided over the graduation ceremonies. By 2013 we had almost 300 graduates from 8 programs ranging from MS in art therapy to PA to MD to PhD.”

“Both of my children ‘borrowed’ the gown for their college graduation. Casey Ruth Williams graduated from the University of Virginia in 1998 with a BS in environmental sciences and in 2004 with a Master’s degree in landscape architecture/urban planning. My son, Boyden Williams, broke the gender barrier and wore the gown when he graduated from Virginia Tech in 2000 with a degree in mechanical engineering.”

After the emeritus commencement ceremony, Pat wandered around campus, exploring her old haunts. “I came across a group of young women taking pictures at the brass M in the Diag and asked one if she would take my picture,” says Pat. “After mentioning the 50th anniversary, next thing I knew they were all joining me in the picture! I stayed awhile, learning about them and their plans. That is the true Michigan spirit, it made my day.”

Pat’s family traditional reminds us all what it means to be a Wolverine. Michigan Wolverines are always connected back to that place you once called home and to the people who are forever known as the leaders and best. Wherever life takes you, you are never far away from your esteemed alma mater and each other.