In the heart of Ute country, an unexpected fan reps the Y every day.
Gilbert Williams is a Louisiana-born Baptist and a Korean-War veteran. He started as a janitor but, after going back to school at age 60, now works as a certified nursing assistant at the veteran’s hospital right across the street from the U’s Rice-Eccles Stadium. And he just happens to be one of BYU’s most ardent advocates, having acquired a love for the school by watching Danny R. Ainge (BA ’92), Steve Young (BA ’84, JD ’94), and Ty H. Detmer (BS ’92) and reading up on the school’s values.
“Gilbert really has no ties to BYU except he’s a great admirer of BYU athletics and is impressed by the university’s moral code and ethics,” says Lou Rudolf, a faculty member at the U of U whom Williams has been trying to recruit for years.
“Gilbert is the best ambassador for BYU that I have ever met,” says Scott J. Parker (BS ’07), a resident physician at the U. “He always wears a BYU shirt and hat; he has a BYU watch and BYU chapstick and a BYU notebook that he carries around. He refers to everyone as ‘My BYU brother,’ or ‘My BYU sister’—even to hard-core Utah fans. He constantly talks about BYU and what the university stands for.”
Williams has been to only one BYU football game, against Idaho State in November 2013: “I had my BYU jacket on—the fancy one,” he says. He had on his BYU socks, gloves, hat, and T-shirt. “It was cold, snowing, and raining,” he recalls. “As much as I hate the cold, I felt like I had died and gone to heaven. Because everybody there looked just like me. And I loved it.”
“Gilbert makes people smile and feel better about their everyday life,” Parker says, “When I talk to him I come away feeling inspired. He leaves me thinking that I’ve got to try harder and be better.” And his effort to recruit Rudolf to blue is starting to work: “I’m a faculty member of the University of Utah, and I support the Utes. But because of Gilbert, I’m a little bit more neutral on this and I follow BYU athletics. . . . He sort of shows a different side of it. It’s not just a sports rivalry.”
Gilbert will go to work early to “do his recruiting for BYU supporters.” And if anyone pauses to check out the BYU gear he wears every day, he will ask, “Are you a BYU fan? No? Well, I think you have the potential of being a great BYU supporter. And I mean that as a high-level compliment.”