Alumni Notes


Harrison "Pete" Williams '41
United States Senator

Harrison "Pete" Williams, a popular, longtime U.S. senator from New Jersey whose career was ended by the Abscam bribery scandal, died November 17, 2001, following a battle with cancer and heart ailments. He was 81.

After Oberlin, Mr. Williams served as a Navy pilot in WWII and later graduated from Columbia Law School. In 1958, with the backing of Democratic Party bosses, he landed a seat in the U.S. Senate, defeating longtime Republican incumbent Robert W. Kean. Mr. Williams was easily reelected three times and became chair of the Labor and Human Resources Committee in 1971--a post he held until the Republicans took control of the Senate in the 1980s.

He fought for a range of social welfare laws and urban transit programs and was instrumental in passing landmark laws such as the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, which protects worker pensions, and the Coal Mine and Health Safety Act. He also helped pass legislation that created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and was a key player in passing the Urban Mass Transit Act of 1964.

In 1981, Mr. Williams was convicted of bribery and conspiracy after being caught with FBI agents and informants posing as Arab sheiks. He was convicted of promising to use his office to further a business venture in which he had a hidden interest. Claiming he was a victim of FBI misconduct, Mr. Williams fought expulsion efforts before resigning from the Senate in 1982. He was sentenced to three years in prison, serving most of the sentence at the federal correctional facility in Allenwood, Pennsylvania. After his release he spent the remaining years of his life as a member of the board of directors of Pyramid House, a New Jersey halfway house that provided alcohol and drug rehabilitation.

Mr. Williams is survived by his second wife and four children.


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