Marie Williams (’93)

Category: Alumni Professional Achievement | Awards

2021 Alumni Professional Achievement Award Winner

Tennessee Commissioner of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Marie Williams has spent decades bettering the lives of Tennesseans.

Five years after graduating with her MS in social work from UT, Williams was named a Fellow in the Housing and Urban Development community building program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. During her time in the program, she developed the Creating Homes Initiative, which provides affordable housing for people living with mental illness. The initiative has created housing opportunities for more than 20,000 Tennesseans and has spurred more than $677 million in additional funding based on its success. In her time as commissioner, Williams has been a leader in addressing essential issues facing Tennessee, including the opioid crisis, emergency psychiatric services, and criminal justice reform.

For emergency psychiatric care, Williams established an unprecedented public–private partnership in collaboration with the Tennessee Hospital Association which resulted in the creation and implementation of psychiatric treatment protocols for use in emergency departments across the state.

She has introduced safety net services that offer treatment for more than 32,000 Tennesseans annually who have a severe mental illness, are uninsured, and are 100 percent below the federal poverty line.

A number of organizations have recognized the importance of Williams’s work. Some of the awards she’s received include the Excellence in Advocacy Individual Achievement Award from the National Council for Behavioral Health, the George Goodman and Ruth P. Brudney National Social Work Award from Mental Health America, the Tipper Gore Legacy Award from Tennessee Voices for Children, and the Senator Douglas Henry Award for Service to Children and Families at Risk from the University of Tennessee College of Social Work.

Williams has previously served as an adjunct faculty member in the College of Social Work and continues to serve on its board of visitors.