CURRENT Summer 2019

Margaret Alkek Williams is a Houston treasure with two enduring passions — philanthropy and the performing arts. And, for the betterment of our community, she has dedicated her life to supporting both, enthusiastically and at the highest level.
 
Williams is the chairman of the Albert and Margaret Alkek Foundation, founded in 1995 after the death of her father to carry on the family’s charitable mission. Tirelessly, and with unmatched elegance, grace and kindness, Williams endeavors to provide support for charitable, religious, medical, cultural and educational organizations and programs here in Houston and beyond.
 
In 2016, Williams and her family celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Foundation and its $200 million in giving. That total included over $100 million to Baylor College of Medicine.
 
“My parents instilled in me that privilege comes with responsibility. I see how the careful choices they made created a legacy that both continues to give back to the community and also honors their lives, values and hopes for Houston,” said Williams.
 
Promoting the performing arts, for example, has long been a tradition of the Alkek family, and Williams’ affection for the arts has been a lifelong journey. 
 
When asked about this, Williams said, “By the time I was four years old, I was taking piano and singing lessons and performing in plays. I also started ballet lessons in the first grade.”
 
And, her first memory of attending a live performance?
 
“My first experience took place on a family trip to New York City, when I was in junior high school. My parents took me to see Carousel.” 
 
Later on, while in college, Williams performed in that same musical, playing the part of Julie Jordan.
 
“I have always loved singing and performing, and I continued doing both all the way through college,” she added. 
 
Williams studied acting at Stanford University and, later, earned a degree in music from The University of Texas. 
 
Afterwards, she  performed briefly with the Gilbert and  Sullivan Society of Philadelphia and, in 1960, she joined the Houston Grand Opera Chorus. ​
 
Williams said, “My first opera performance with HGO was in Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot. The chorus plays a major role in this opera, so I was excited to be a part of it. I also sang with the HGO chorus in Romeo and Juliet and Samson et Dalila. Turandot remains one of my  favorite operas, and it includes the beautiful and emotional ‘Nessun Dorma’ aria.”
 
Williams’ deep affection for the performing arts is well-known and appreciated in our community. Her influence and impact across Houston’s cultural community is legendary. Grants given have resulted in the creation of new buildings, endowments, productions and programs. 
 
Williams’ love of the performing arts is highlighted by several important gifts: to the Center for Performing Arts Medicine (CPAM) at Houston Methodist Hospital, Theatre Under The Stars (TUTS) and the Houston Ballet. 
 
In 2016, her generous gift funded the Margaret Alkek Williams CPAM Endowment for Arts Integration at Houston Methodist Hospital. The endowment will allow the center to continue in perpetuity the 100-plus live performances for Houston Methodist patients and guests throughout the year.
 
This fall, TUTS intends to break ground on the Margaret Alkek Williams Center for Arts and Education. At the start of the capital campaign in 2017, Williams pledged a $4 million lead gift to help build the 20,000-square-foot, three-story structure. The Margaret Alkek Williams Center will be constructed adjacent to the existing building and will feature a 140-seat black box studio, provide classrooms for voice, dance and acting, and triple the amount of rehearsal space currently available to performers.
 
“I look forward for the Margaret Alkek Williams Center for Arts and Education to be the heart of TUTS’ artistic and education vision,” said Williams. “It will be a space for our Houston community to come together to learn, experience and share a love for musical theatre.”
 
In 2017, Williams endowed Houston Ballet’s Jubilee of Dance, a one-night-only gala event that showcases excerpts of work and highlights all of  the company dancers.  Williams endowed the performance in perpetuity, officially naming it the Margaret Alkek Williams Jubilee of Dance.
 
“Every year, the very best of Houston Ballet has been on display at the Jubilee of Dance. I’m so proud of our beautiful, talented dancers and the diverse repertoire they are able to perform,” said Williams. “It’s important that our ballet company continues to have the opportunity to showcase its very best work for years to come.”  
 
Williams continued, “The Jubilee of Dance is the one night a year that every Houston  Ballet dancer takes the stage in repertoire meant to challenge and inspire the very best of each of them. I’m delighted to ensure this tradition continues for years to come.”
 
Jim Nelson, executive director of the Houston Ballet, said, “Margaret has been a generous friend of the arts for decades. She joined the Houston Ballet Board of Trustees in 1989 and began serving on the executive committee in 2003. Her extraordinary generosity has paved the way for the golden age we experience now at Houston Ballet. 
 
“Houston Ballet is honored and humbled to have the longtime patronage of Margaret. Her deep commitment to Houston Ballet is just one reflection of the transformational leadership she has provided to Houston’s arts as she continues to carry the torch of her family’s legacy of giving.” 
 
Additional gifts to Houston’s performing arts community, all directed by Williams, made possible the creation of the Margaret Alkek Williams Terrace Level at the Alley Theatre; Margaret Alkek Williams Dance Lab at the Houston Ballet; the endowment for the Margaret Alkek Williams Executive Director/ CEO Chair, held by John Mangum, at the Houston Symphony; and the endowment for the Margaret Alkek Williams Chair, held by Patrick Summers, artistic and music director at the Houston Grand Opera. 
 
Summers said, “Margaret is an angel. Her loyalty to and longevity with HGO has made so much of our success possible that it would be impossible to properly thank her. She has made our city immeasurably better, and she’s done it with complete class, integrity, love and unending kindness.” 
 
Williams, Houston’s most beloved philanthropist, has been honored for her generosity many times, over the span of many years, and deservingly so!  
 
​In 2013, UNICEF USA recognized her extraordinary dedication to the health and well-being of children in Houston and around the world. She was the first  person in the U.S. to receive the Audrey  Hepburn® Society Philanthropist of the Year Award in recognition of her support of the UNICEF and Baylor International Pediatric AIDS Pediatric AIDS Initiative.
 
Also, in 2013, the Margaret Alkek Williams Humanitarian Award was established to recognize philanthropic leaders at the annual UNICEF USA Houston  Gala. Past recipients include Former First Lady Barbara Bush, Robert and Janice McNair, Rose and Harry Cullen, and Susan and Fayez Sarofim.
 
​In 2017, the Association of Fundraising Professionals – Greater Houston Chapter honored Williams with the prestigious Maurice Hirsch Award for Philanthropy. This award is given to an individual or family with a proven record of exceptional generosity. 
 
Williams was humbled to follow in the footsteps of the past recipients of the award, including her father, Albert B. Alkek, in 1990 and her mother, Margaret M. Alkek, in 2000. 
 
Dr. Michael E. DeBakey once said, “While Houston is fortunate to have an impressive number of truly generous citizens, there are only a few throughout Houston who have given with such commitment and in amounts capable of changing the skyline, the level of healthcare, the magnitude of the arts and the quality of life for nearly every Houstonian. Such is the level of commitment of Margaret Alkek Williams.”
 
Beverly Denver is the founder, editor and publisher of Houston Woman Magazine.