Williams was head coach of the university’s rugby team which he led to victory in the Varsity Shield and saw the team promoted to the Varsity Cup this year. He died last week following a heart attack aged 49.
The ceremony was littered with rugby luminaries, including captain of the 1995 Rugby World Cup winning South Africa team Francois Pienaar, entertainer PJ Powers and keynote speaker Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure Patricia de Lille. Williams’s widow Maria was supported by their twins, Matthew and Chloe, her son Ryan Robson, and her father-in-law Wilfred and brother-in-law Emile Williams.
Maria called her husband’s team on to the stage along with their children as she thanked UWC’s head of sports Mandla Gagayi for giving her husband a job so he could be with his family.
“He never got the opportunity to represent South Africa as a coach.
“All his life he had to fight to get a position in South Africa. It is such a sad reality, but it is the reality, that’s okay. He got to represent UWC, who are our family. Mandla thank you for giving him a job that allowed us to be part of his life,” said Maria.
To the team, Maria said her husband loved being with them for the past two years and helping to guide them to greater heights.
Williams’s father Wilfred said it was painful to lose one’s child at any age but he was at peace.
He said he was eternally proud of his son and the legacy he had left behind. Born and bred in Paarl, Williams emerged through the ranks of Boland rugby before being snapped up by Western Province.
He represented SA at the historic 1995 Rugby World Cup, where among the memories he left the nation were his four tries against Samoa after returning from an injury that was feared would rule SA’s only black player out of the tournament.
Acting Rector and Vice-Chancellor Pamela Dube said last week that the university was under a dark cloud following the murder of student Jesse Hess and the deaths of two academics.
Dube said the university was celebrating an outstanding mentor, coach and motivator to its students, and a man who was a living example of human potential.
Powers performed an emotional rendition of the 1995 Rugby World Cup theme song and her signature hit, Jabulani, bringing the crowd to its feet. De Lille, who is a close friend of the Williams family, said she remembered his humble spirit.
“I must thank Maria, Ryan, Matthew and Chloe for sharing Chester with us. We will forever be indebted to our son of the soil for his talented displays on the field.
"I must say that it is truly sad that his legendary status was at times forgotten by those who never saw the major contribution he could have continued to make in professional rugby in South Africa after he stopped playing,” said De Lille.
Williams was revered and celebrated in Romania for the significant impact he made to the teams he worked with there, she added.
De Lille, who is a trustee of the Chester Williams Foundation, said the legendary wing went out of his way to help drug addicts in Paarl.
Pienaar said news of Williams’s death shortly after the loss of team mate, James Small, came as a shock and gave him much to think about.
Pienaar said Williams never wanted to be the poster boy of the 1995 World Cup.
“He was too humble. But he left deep footprints in SA rugby history.”