It all started in 1920 when his mother said, "No." Dean Williamson '32 was 9, and he was itching to play the drums. But his mom wasn't too keen on the idea of the cacophony of daily percussion practice. "'No drums in this house,'" she proclaimed. And so Williamson's urge to tap, rattle and roll was put on hold for a few years. Eighty-three, to be exact.
Last year, at the age of 92, he took his first drum lesson—and he's having just about as much fun as if he were 9 again. "My favorite kind of music is jazz swing," he says, ticking off some of his favorite performers: Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman and Count Basie.
"Dean is a fun student," says John Faggiano, percussion department chair at the Concord (N.H.) Community Music School, where Williamson is learning to play those swing beats he loves. "He tries hard, takes suggestions and practices. He's willing to try something new."
Williamson has spent a lifetime cultivating that try-something-new attitude. As a UNH student, he was roped into joining the six-man cheerleading squad. The normally reserved young man wound up as captain of the boisterous crew. He also did an unexpected stint on the hockey team his senior year. "The coach saw one of our fraternity hockey games where I must have scored a goal, and he invited me to try out," says Williamson, recalling the moment as if still surprised at his great luck. In those days, the ice rink was outdoors. Rainy weather meant games were cancelled and snow meant the team had to shovel before they could play. But enthusiasm was high. Williamson, who still holds men's ice hockey season tickets and makes it to most of the games, says the team had "a blast."
Not long after graduating from UNH and starting his career in the insurance business, Williamson became president of the Concord, N.H., alumni chapter, eventually serving as president of the Alumni Association board of directors. In 1960, he joined the UNH Board of Trustees as the alumni representative, later serving as secretary, vice president and then president.
Williamson's commitment inspired the establishment in 1956 of the Dean P. Williamson Award, which goes annually to a UNH student "who demonstrates selfless devotion to others." In 1972, the trustees voted to name the newest residence hall in Williamson's honor. "That came as a great surprise to me," says Williamson. Inside the building hangs a portrait of "Mr. University," as Williamson was affectionately known, donated by several of his classmates. "I'm very proud of UNH," he says, adding that he feels privileged to have been able to serve his alma mater. "It has grown to be a wonderful state university."
For Williamson the musician, drumming is just another example of his passion for trying new things. "I'm having a ball," says Williamson, who plans to buy his own drum set so he can practice at home. When he does, he might even have an audience. His supportive neighbors have suggested he set up the drums on his front porch. So if you're driving through the streets of Concord, listen up. That rhythmic tapping will likely be "Mr. University" drumming away.Return to UNH Magazine Alumni Profiles