Alumni Spotlight

Mike Williamson, '54A, '58

By: Devin Hanners, '09
August 08, 2014

UPIKE graduates come from all walks of life, each committing to a unique endeavor on “The Hill,” each leaving a one-of-a-kind mark with their time there, one that can be equaled in measure but never replaced. Some UPIKE graduates choose to remain in the mountains forever, similarly taking part in the daily culture constituting our area, and likewise leaving their mark upon our landscape. Others choose a more adventurous path, a life of travel and exploration. From a life of farming to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), join us as we take a look at the journey Mike Williamson, a UPIKE graduate whose path has taken him across our nation and beyond.

Our tale begins at the “college farm,” a piece of real estate bequeathed to then Pikeville Junior College sometime in the 1940s. By virtue of his grandfather’s position as farm manager, and therefore employee of the college, Williamson was entitled to free tuition at the Training School and Academy, and room and board at the boys’ dorm.

Graduating from the Academy in 1954 and enrolling in then Pikeville College, Williamson began his college career in earnest. He credits inspiration for his decision to pursue a higher education degree in large part to his family, which has a long and rich history of attending classes on “The Hill.” Living with his guardian aunt at the time, a lady whom Williamson says was “well educated” herself, the decision to go to Pikeville College was simple. “That thought was ingrained into me – I never considered otherwise.”

Majoring in English, history and political science, as well as minoring in business, he still somehow managed to hold down a full-time job as a local hospital switchboard operator. Graduating in 1958 and armed with a formidable resume, the next step in Williamson’s journey was one of necessity rather than choice. The year was 1958, and the scent of war was on the air. “Back then were the days of the draft. Many employers weren’t too anxious to hire until you got your draft obligation over with,” so he volunteered for the draft and within a week was notified to report to the U.S. Army.

Williamson spent the next two years of his life as an enlisted man at Ft. Knox. Thankfully, he was never called overseas to fight in a war, or else this article may have read quite differently. After serving his country, Williamson spent the next few years of his life trying his hand as a pharmaceutical sales representative and social security claims representative. And although this period could surely be considered a success by any measurable criteria, it was a certain unmeasurable criterion that Williamson still yearned for out of life – a yearning that had yet to be realized. Soon however, that all would change.

In 1964 Williamson made the decision to apply to the FBI. He credits part of his decision, and his subsequent hiring, to his brother John, also a Pikeville College graduate, who had joined the FBI three years prior. Mike was soon shipped off for three months of training at the FBI Academy deep inside the U.S. Marine base at Quantico, Va.

Upon joining with the FBI, the Pikeville alum began a period of his life that entailed much travel. His first post was located at New Haven, Conn.; from there it was to the New York City – who would ever have ever thought a Pikeville country boy would become an FBI agent in New York City? If this weren’t enough, he put in for a transfer to study Spanish at the U.S. Department of Defense Language School in Monterey, Calif. He chuckled when I inquired about the training, and politely replied “Just don’t ask me to say anything in Spanish.” Well, it was back in 1965, we can’t hold him too accountable, can we?

After the tenure in Monterey, Williamson transferred back to NYC again in the summer of 1966. It was during this time he met his wife Judy, whom he affectionately referred to as his “Yankee girl.” He notes he eventually became tired of the New York lifestyle and put in for a transfer. Apparently California was not enough of a haul for this Bear. In October of 1970, he became a resident of the Puerto Rico, a U.S. commonwealth. He served two years there before the FBI transferred him one last time to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., where he retired in 1987.

Williamson served the Bureau until 1987 when he retired. In this day and age of career hopping and multiple job transfers, anyone who can stay that long in a single career is to be applauded. To truly do his career justice would take more space than we have in the “Spotlight.” However, two of my favorites included a Crime On the High Seas case that the Investigative Discovery Channel covered in an “I Almost Got Away With It” episode called, “Got A Death Certificate.” The other was a case where he and his coworkers managed to rescue a kidnapped infant boy also named Michael Williamson, a case that he says was “by far the most ironic and satisfying of my career”.

Even after retiring from the FBI, Williamson hired on in 1989 as the director of security for a regional building materials firm employing 6,000 employees. Even after he retired from that position, he stayed on in a consultant role until 2006. These days, he’s finally relaxing a little. Williamson enjoys his retirement by membership in the local Rotary Club in Green Cove Springs, Fla., serving on the Advisory Board of the Corps of the Salvation Army in Clay County, Fla., travelling, playing tennis and spending time with his wife Judy, as well as his children and grandchildren. He still manages to find time to return home to Pikeville every year or so, where he makes it a point to visit UPIKE and climb the “99” – just to see if he can still do it without stopping to rest. In fact, this last visit he was honored with the Gary Thrash Outstanding Ambassador Award for exemplary service not only to the UPIKE Alumni Association, but to the University of Pikeville’s overarching mission.

Williamson’s advice for today’s young people goes back to the basics – good grammar. “Even though I usually know better, after 78 years on this earth from time to time still I catch myself speaking incorrectly. There is nothing that listeners remember more from a conversation than incorrect usage of the King’s English. When I see incorrect grammar in a newspaper or hear it on television, it is literally hurtful to the ears.”

The Williamson family tradition at Pikeville College is both rich and deep. Not only did Michael Williamson graduate from Pikeville College, but his deceased brother John Larry, mentioned earlier, did as well; as did his sister Nancy Karol Caudill, and his younger brother Marvin Walker. In fact, there is a bench dedicated to John in front of the Allara Library. “By virtue of my own education and experiences and in view of my family's long history with the no longer existing Training School and Academy, as well as then Pikeville College, I will always harbor, and also express, a deep sense of loyalty to the University of Pikeville.”

So there you have it, the story of how one man went from farming to serving with the FBI. Mike Williamson, and his siblings, is a credit to the history and tradition of UPIKE. He and Judy make it to UPIKE reunions, especially the one in Daytona Beach Shores, Fla., hosted each year by long-time friends, Judith and Doug Hinkle. Come and see him sometime… and ask him about a certain college farm pony named Dapples. He’ll instantly know what you’re talking about.

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