Dr. Joseph Graves McWilliams

June 13, 1946October 11, 2020

A Eulogy for Dr. Joseph Graves McWilliams (Jun. 13, 1946—Oct. 11, 2020) By M.E. McWilliams

Dr. McWilliams was a professor of Mathematics and Statistics at Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas (1985—2011). He had two Masters and a Ph.D from Southern Methodist University. He wrote the statistics textbook used for many years at SFA, donating all profits to scholarships for students.

He taught himself to build boats, bicycles, and motorcycles by reading books. He did the same to learn to play the Djembe drums, the Native American whistle, the didgeridoo, and the Irish whistle. Joe was the kind of man who butchered a hog, cleaned out a motorcycle engine, rode his bike to Diboll and back, reloaded some ammo, set out his crossbow for tomorrow’s hunt, then walked in the door with blood smeared on his shirt, to say, I think I’ll make some earrings!

He was a class favorite in Lake Charles High School where he played football and set several state records in track. Those Lake Charles friends were his for life. One woman posted on a high school email thread that one did not forget the kiss of Joe McWilliams!

He loved all things nautical. He maintained a website for a long time for nautical books and articles. He was a Vietnam veteran of the U.S. Navy, serving on a Pacific carrier as a jet engine mechanic. He built sailboats and raced in a number of regattas.

He was PaPa to girls Viv and Liz. He built them playground equipment that he personally designed. He loved his beagle Bea. He loved to fish with brother Bob. He loved to laugh and played practical jokes on friends, once convincing Dr. Miller to talk to a copier he thought was voice-activated (It was not!). He once saw that a woman couldn’t afford her glasses at the optometrist, so he bought them for her. He inspired students. He asked them to dig deep. He did not put up with nonsense. But for those who wanted to learn—he was all in. Only I knew the secret: He didn’t give a failing final grade to any student who showed improvement.

He was a romantic. He drew the Harmonic Oscillator on the paper tablecloth at our first date, and I was smitten.

In July of 2011, five miles from his home, around 5:00 a.m.--Joe McWilliams and his motorcycle landed upside down in a ditch. That was the end of Joe as we had known him. But even yet—through the six-week coma—through almost a year of torturous rehab and then more years in health facilities—even yet—to the end--he was the great—the one and only--Dr. Joe McWilliams.

You can express your gratitude to Joe by donating to the Dr. Joe G. McWilliams Scholarship which benefits other students of math. Contact Sarah Sargent, Director of the SFA Advancement Services (, and the story of Joe Mac will continue to be told.


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Dr. Joseph Graves McWilliams

have a memory or condolence to add?

Brandon Barnhart

October 14, 2020

Dr. McWilliams was a teacher and a mentor, and I consider him one of the most important role models in my life. He learned to fly gliders during his time at SMU in the Dallas area. Once we discovered we had a common interest in aviation, we decided to rent a plane and go flying in Nac. He wanted to see the back of his hunting lease from the air because there had been flooding and it was difficult to access the back part of the lease. I had a lot of fun flying around Nac with him that day! The plane was practically brand new and the weather was perfect. We felt like we owned the skies! When I pulled a surprise negative G on him, Dr. Mac smiled and laughed like a kid on a rollercoaster. He loved it. It was always so much fun being around him, and he was always up for an adventure.

I now tell my students stories about the great Dr. Mac. At this point, he probably seems like a myth to them, but to those of us lucky enough to know him, we know that his was a life truly lived. I will miss his genius, our comradery, his humor, and his excellence. He will always be an important part of who I am.

Keith Hubbard

October 14, 2020

I'm remembering Joe Mac taking me to shoot the only hog I've ever shot, then cutting her open and offering to let me eat her heart raw. Of course, Joe then field dressed the hog so he could use all the meat back at his house. :)


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