HAA Honors Three Alumni for Service
The Harvard Alumni Association (HAA) has recognized three alumni as the 2021 Harvard Medalists, honoring their extraordinary service to the University. (The actual medal presentation is typically part of the HAA’s annual meeting on the afternoon of Commencement Day; as announced last December, that ceremony will take place virtually this year on June 4, during the period when reunions are scheduled—a week after the virtual graduation exercise. The 2020 honorands will also be recognized then, making up for the truncated graduation exercises assembled during the initial pandemic spring.) The honorands and their service are detailed here.
Walter K. Clair ’77, M.D. ’81, M.P.H. ’85
A committed leader and mentor, Walter Clair has strengthened collaboration across Harvard’s schools and supported generations of students. As a member of the University’s Board of Overseers from 2009 to 2016, he served as vice chair, led several visiting committees, and served on many others, including those to the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, Harvard Medical School, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. He was also a member of the Joint Committee for Alumni Affairs and Development from 2011 to 2015. He earlier served as an elected director of the HAA and chair of its Awards Committee.
The executive medical director of the Vanderbilt Heart and Vascular Institute from 2015 to 2021, Clair currently serves as professor of clinical medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and is vice chair for diversity and inclusion in the department of medicine.
Throughout his career, he has dedicated his efforts to supporting students of color, including through his work with the nonprofit mentoring program 100 Black Men of Middle Tennessee, which seeks to enhance educational and economic opportunities for young black males.
At Harvard, where he earned his bachelor and professional degrees, he was a nonresident tutor and premedical advisor in Leverett House. The winner of an HAA Award for outstanding volunteer service in 2016, he has previously served as an executive committee member and alumni interviewer for the Harvard Club of Middle Tennessee.
Nancy-Beth Gordon Sheerr ’71
A passionate Harvard volunteer and proud alumna of Radcliffe College, Nancy-Beth Gordon Sheerr chaired the Radcliffe College Board of Trustees from 1990 to 1999 and was instrumental in the successful Harvard-Radcliffe merger and the creation of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, where she continues to serve on the Dean’s Advisory Board.
Her longtime dedication to Harvard is also marked by decades of HAA service. Gordon Sheerr chaired the Awards Committee, Schools and Scholarship Committee, and the HAA Recent Graduates Committee, and helped drive initiatives focused on leading and inspiring volunteers, bolstering Clubs and Shared Interest Groups (SIGs), and promoting organizational problem-solving. In addition, she was an HAA regional director for the Greater Delaware Valley from 2006 to 2010 and an HAA appointed director for Radcliffe from 1972 to 1974. She was recognized with an HAA Award in 2010. Deeply involved in her class and local Harvard activities, she is past president and longtime board member of the Harvard-Radcliffe Club of Philadelphia, an active class reunion committee member, and past president of the Harvard-Radcliffe Class of 1971.
Gordon Sheerr graduated cum laude from Radcliffe, where she studied social relations, and received her master’s in psychology from Columbia in 1978. A former senior financial advisor at Veritable L.P., she serves as an independent trustee for families and the Value Line Funds. She is also a former trustee and chair of The Baldwin School Board.
Preston N. Williams, Ph.D. ’67
Preston Noah Williams has dedicated his life to working for social and racial justice and supporting belonging and inclusion of all scholars and students at the University. The first tenured African American member of the Harvard Divinity School (HDS) faculty and the first to lead HDS when he was acting dean from 1974 to 1975, he was also the founding director of Harvard’s W.E.B. DuBois Research Institute.
Now the Houghton professor of theology and contemporary change emeritus, Williams is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Washington and Jefferson College, earning his bachelor of divinity at Johnson C. Smith University and his master of sacred theology from Yale Divinity School. He taught at three historically black colleges and served as associate chaplain at Pennsylvania State University.
After completing his doctorate, he taught at Boston University, serving as the Martin Luther King, Jr. professor of theology. In 1971 he became the Houghton professor of theology and contemporary change at HDS, chairing the ethics department from 1977 to 1980. He led efforts for the inclusion of African American religion in the curriculum, incorporating African religions into HDS’s Center for the Study of World Religions, and improving services to students of color. He was an associate at Mather House from 1973 to 2018.
Williams has been awarded the Harvard Foundation Medal for Intercultural and Race Relations, the W.E.B. DuBois Medal, the Black Alumni/ae Network Award, and the Peter J. Gomes STB ’68 Memorial Honor. HDS also established the Preston N. Williams Black Alumni/ae Award in his honor.