This article is part of a series focusing on introducing Scroll leadership to readers.

Lane Williams is a man with a rare condition of being incredibly optimistic, while also fully facing reality. His optimism does not come from a lack of understanding, he seems to have a more comprehensive view of the world than most in it. His optimism comes from having witnessed and grasped something about the beauty of living that few do until their last years, if ever. He grasped that understanding through the lives of those around him, particularly his mother and Grandfather.

“I didn’t have reason to be cynical,” Williams said.

His father passed away when he was 10 years old, and his mother remained a widow for over 30 years. He never felt vulnerable because of the sort of home his mother provided. She managed the family’s source of income, social security, for her and her five children. At the end of her life, she managed to leave a small inheritance for her children. He remembers the worst thing she ever said about a person was ‘she’s a complex person.’

“If she ever said that,” Williams said, “you knew that woman was nuts-o.”

She chose to remain home for the stability of her children instead of working, and he never heard her complain. Throughout the year, she would buy presents early when things were on sale and hide them away until the holiday came. She raised a family that produced, through her children and grandchildren, the head pediatrician at the Primary Children’s Hospital, the general councilor for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, an award-winning high school teacher, an ICU nurse, a venture capitalist, a top-level physician, a genetic scientist running the lab at the University of Utah, a chaplain, a nuclear physicist engineer and a Boeing designer.

“That’s what the gospel does,” Williams said.

Williams’ grandfather had heart failure from an early age which rendered him physically inactive for much of his life. When Williams decided to serve a mission, he thought he was seeing his grandfather for the last time. Williams decided to write to his grandfather every week, even though his grandfather only had the energy to respond once.

Williams began his mission during the short period of time when men served 18 months. While he was serving in Japan, church policy reverted back to the standard two years and missionaries were given the choice to stick with 18 months or to extend.

“One of the best decisions I ever made in my life was to extend,” Williams said.

Just before Williams returned home, his grandfather had a heart attack and was hospitalized. Williams walked in to see him for the first time since returning home and his grandfather began crying. Williams sat by his side for two hours telling him about his mission.

“I don’t know what he was thinking,” Williams said. “He didn’t tell me. You can only imagine my grandpa, you know, worried about me with my dad being gone, not really able to do much. So it seemed like I made him proud, and it changed my life.”

His grandfather died two weeks later. Williams says it is those experiences, among others, that taught him the value of life.

Williams gestures while teaching.

Lane Williams gestures to the projector screen while teaching. Photo credit: Cat Menlove

I once heard a coworker refer to him as, “The Brain.” I laughed then because I found it so fitting, but now it causes me to pause and marvel for a bit because he, in the pattern of holding often contradictory characteristics, is also one of the most humble people you will ever meet. You can’t say he won’t take a compliment, he receives them graciously.

It feels as if the only thing stopping him from rejecting them is deference to the giver, not wanting to disrupt their giving. You thank him or make even a modest comment of praise and he will look down and off to the right and say something such as, “Well, I don’t know about that but thank you, thank you very much. I don’t think I deserve that, but it is kind of you.”

And all that coming from the man who has had dinner with the President of the United States, George W. Bush.

While Williams was assigned to be David Broder’s graduate student at the University of Maryland, Broder invited him to the Gridiron Club. The Gridiron Club is where top journalists meet with top politicians (the president and vice president of the United States, for example) have dinner together and generally have a good time. While it is reported on, no cameras are allowed.

Williams recalls it being the first time since his wedding that he had to rent a tux. While attending the dinner, he ran into his dean, who laughed and asked what he was doing there. Williams answered that he had come to park the car.

During his time with Broder, he often found himself at lunch with Pulitzer Prize winners and other prestigious individuals. He interned with Jack Anderson, a well-known syndicated columnist and a member of the Church. In his time with Anderson, Williams wrote his radio briefs under Anderson’s name. He shares his experiences during these opportunities with gratitude, without a speck of self-aggrandizement.

About two years ago, Williams began to change his life. He had always dealt with a bit of anxiety and depression and when he read Doctrine and Covenants 88: 124 he decided to latch onto the promise, “…arise, early, that your bodies and your minds may be invigorated.”

Since then, he has quit watching late-night TV, eats healthier and walks almost everywhere. Students see his 6’3” frame shrouded in his black knee-length overcoat with a worn wool Ascot cap pulled low over his brow as he walks to the university. If you didn’t know him, you might be intimidated, but even a brief conversation would dispel those thoughts. His arms go from folded to unfolded, adjusting and smoothing his loose tie. He has a square face with softened corners at the jaw and chin and a prominent brow line that tends to lower over his eyes as he speaks about something he cares about.

Now he wakes up before 6 a.m. every morning and the first thing he does is read his scriptures. He has served in the bishopric and taught a Book of Mormon class on campus. He always reads the Book of Mormon paired with something else. Right now, it’s the Doctrine and Covenants.

The consistency of his study is that of a religious man, but the methods are those of a scholar. He studies by topic. He also highlights every verse about Christ and usually finds several each morning.

Williams teaches students in his News for the 21st Century class.

Williams teaches students in his News for the 21st Century class. Photo credit: Cat Menlove

Williams also loves classical music. Just a few days ago, I walked by where he was sitting in the corner of his classroom, students working in groups and chatting loudly with each other while William’s signature classical music played in the background. As the students worked, he typed away on his laptop, probably playing with Datawrapper, a software for creating graphics from data, perfect for the Williams’ signature data journalism. Possibly a skill he picked up from attending the NICAR conference last month.

Not NASCAR, NICAR. The National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting. There he is, immersed in two opposite environments: the structured walls of a data program and the mood-inducing melodies of music.

He loves to learn. In the same spirit of humility, he will tell you about going out to his family’s Volkswagen Beetle, where you could turn on the radio without the key and listen to political talk radio at age 10. He has too many podcasts to listen to every day, ranging from sports to history, tech and politics.

He reads, and feels the university life fits him well. It does, but not for the reason he thinks. It fits him well because he has a character valuable to associate with, for all, but especially for those young and eager students attending school in 2024. He acts as a noncombatant counterweight to the derision and pessimism of this time.

“Of all the classes I took, that class alone helped me become the writer I am today,” said Stephen Henderson, a current member of the communication faculty and Williams’ past student.

The fuel of that optimism has to be love. Upon meeting Williams, it might not strike you that he is one of the most loving people you will ever meet, but in a time where it is popular to string out the dirty laundry of every historical figure we have ever loved, he will tell you about why they were great men. Not to argue, just for the fact that goodness is good to share and know. He will tell you why we were fortunate to have Gerald Ford as our president for aiding the nation’s healing after Nixon’s resignation. He will explain what he admires about individuals who have been canceled for what they said or did.

Maybe it is the journalist in him coming out, or it is what drove him to become a journalist, but he has a fascination with the ordinary. Speaking about others he admires, especially his wife and mother, he will describe what they have done as thankless jobs, with the same admiration as he will tell you about a speech by Reagan, his hero.

He writes about the marginalized without the stench of demeaning pity or making the reader feel guilty of their advantages in life, but in a manner of familiarity. Such plain familiarity that it brings you to that character and to feel with them, to see what they struggle with silently.

Williams’ passion for journalism, learning, Japan, data, a document with a story hidden in the numbers, you name it, is what makes him a great teacher. His optimism for our country, the gospel, individuals who have made mistakes, is what makes him a great mentor for the young adults attending BYU-Idaho at this time. His charity for his family, his students, the unseen, the unknown and the uncared for, is what makes him a great disciple of Jesus Christ.