Headmaster comes back home
Dec. 17, 1997

Potomac resident Edward Neill "Ned" Williams, new headmaster and former student at Mater Dei School, had a less than auspicious beginning with the Catholic parochial school which educates 230 boys in grades one through eight.

"I did first grade twice. I wasn't reading at all," said Williams, 36.

He went on to master that skill and then proceeded to wrestle with elementary school math before heading off to Georgetown Preparatory School for high school; Holy Cross College in Worcester, Mass., where he graduated with a degree in history; and finally, Harvard, where he earned a masters in education.

Williams said it was the support he received from his Mater Dei teachers during his early days of schooling that led him to decide on a career in education at the very place where those struggles began.

"People are teachers because they respect and enjoy the teachers from which they learned," said Williams. "That's why I do what I do. I enjoyed the teachers I had at Mater Dei."

Williams said those early school experiences where he was not at the head of the class have had a profound effect not only on how he approaches his work, but on his choice of subject matter for the one class he continues to teach now that he has assumed headmaster duties.

"It has helped me have a certain empathy for guys who don't get it, who don't make the first cut, " said Williams, who enjoys explaining the intricacies of fractions and decimal points to the school's fifth-graders. "It makes you a better teacher because you look through different lenses. I asked to teach math because it wasn't the easiest subject for me. I felt I could look at math from [the point of view of] someone it doesn't come easy to."

One of seven children of lawyer and one-time owner of the Baltimore Orioles, Edward Bennett Williams and his wife, Agnes, Ned Williams says he's the child who has never strayed far from his roots.

Five of his siblings, two of whom also went to Mater Dei, are scattered throughout the country. There is one sister who still lives in Potomac and who sends her son to Mater Dei, but it is Williams, who for all intensive purposes, continues to live where he grew up.

He and his wife, Megan, 32, and their three children, ages 5, 3, and 1, live in a house they built on a piece of the 14-acre property where he spent his childhood and where his mother continues to reside.

"We're right in the backyard. We climb the fence and visit her," said Williams. Before they moved into their new home last year, Williams and his family lived in an old farm house that was also on the property.

"I loved it [but] we outgrew it," said Williams. "I'm truly somebody who doesn't go too far."

Williams was appointed Mater Dei's third headmaster last spring. He said he feels comfortable in his new position in part because the former headmaster, Christopher Abell, now president of the school, has an office nearby and is always available to bounce ideas off, answer questions and offer suggestions. It doesn't hurt that Williams' relationship with Abell goes back a long time.

"When I was here as a student, Chris Abell was my teacher and he drove my carpool," Williams said.

Abell said Williams was one of his all-time favorite students and that he was "really excited when [Williams] came back as a teacher [and] he's the greatest headmaster around."

Abell also said his connection with the new headmaster has recently become even more intertwined.

"He's now teaching my son. It completes some sort of a circle," Abell said.

The headmaster position has required Williams assume a number of new administrative duties. That in turn means he can no longer participate in as many extracurricular activities as he did as a teacher. Coaching wrestling has fallen by the wayside, but one thing that hasn't changed is his involvement with the school's annual Halloween celebration.

"Halloween is big here," said Williams of the holiday that brings out the creative side of not only the students, who on that day come to school in their costumes, but their parents, their teachers, and the headmaster. This year, Williams arrived decked out as "Jeannie" from the "I Dream Of Jeannie" TV series.

"It was very funny," said Williams who having been awarded best costume, will have his name engraved on a special trophy. "[But] it was a little cold and chilly. There's not a lot to that outfit."

He all ready has something in mind for next year, but won't divulge what it is.

"It's a very big secret. You have to start [planning or assembling] that far in advance."

As he sits in his office, the walls of which are festooned with pictures of the school's graduating classes, including three where a discerning eye can spot the Williams' brothers, Williams says his new position is a dream-come-true.

"It's a great place," he said. "I work with great people ... our families, our boys and our staff."