Sid Williams, 84: Founder of Life University

Dr. Sid E. Williams wanted to convert the world to chiropractic care. To that end, the Life University founder created a place that could educate and train anyone who believed in his vision.

Along with his wife, Dr. Nell Williams, he started Life Chiropractic in 1974, which became Life College and is now Life University. The school, while under Williams’ direction in the 1990s, became the largest chiropractic college in the world with an 89-acre campus and more than 3,500 students.

Though he was eventually forced to leave the school 10 years ago after an accreditation controversy, Williams dedication to his field never changed.

“He thought everyone should be a chiropractor,” said former athletic director and basketball coach Roger Kaiser. “I told him I was too old, but he did convince my daughter. He really just wanted to see people become better people and for him, the way to do that was to become a chiropractor.”

Sid Williams, 84, suffered a stroke a year ago and had more recently battled pneumonia, said Jean Riley, his personal secretary for more than 40 years. He died early Thursday morning from complications of pneumonia at his home in Powder Springs. Funeral arrangements are pending and will be announced by Mayes Ward-Dobbins Funeral Home, Macland Chapel.

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For nearly 30 years, Williams was the public face of the private university that began with a three-person faculty and two dozen students in a cluster of rented trailers near Dobbins Air Reserve Base. Known widely as “Dr. Sid,” he regularly appeared in TV commercials pitching the school, his hair perfectly coiffed. “Call Life University … today, ” he urged from the screen, with a broad toothy smile.

Life University grew to include athletics and a four-year liberal arts program. But William’s zealous approach to chiropractic may have contributed to the decline of the school and his eventual ouster from the place he worked so hard to establish.

A 2002 report from the Council on Chiropractic Education was critical of Life’s curriculum, specifically about inadequacies in teaching students to recognize when patient care could best be provided by a medical doctor. In June of that year, the council decided to revoke the school’s accreditation and Williams was forced into retirement. Accreditation was restored the following year.

He also came under criticism for his income while leading the non-profit school during its boom years. Williams’ reported income in 1998 reached over $900,000. Four years later when he stepped down, Life’s board of trustees granted Williams and his wife a nearly $5 million severance package.

Bob Snelson, a friend and Life’s former chief of operations, said Williams remained active in chiropractic after he left the school. He and his wife helped direct the Life Foundation Inc., a nonprofit chiropractic research and educational organization, and Dynamic Essentials International Inc., a for-profit company that sponsors chiropractic practice-building seminars and sells equipment, among other business enterprises.

“He was a strong visionary,” Snelson said. “And he had a lot of compassion for his fellow man and he felt like there were a lot of things chiropractic could help in that regard.”

A 1946 graduate of Atlanta’s Tech High School, Williams was a football standout in high school and at Georgia Tech, where he was inducted into the school’s hall of fame in 1999. Williams said his parents, neither of whom were chiropractors, encouraged him in the field.

He went to Palmer School of Chiropractic, in Davenport, Iowa, for four years before coming back to Georgia. He didn’t set out to build the largest chiropractic school, but he had big dreams, Williams told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2009.

“I don’t think we ever thought we would do that, but we always thought in big terms,” he said. “I was gung-ho about everything chiropractic. There’s a lot of love and expertise built into that. We built 32 clinics after we got out of Davenport, Iowa, and I’m proud of them.”

In addition to his wife, Williams is survived by his children, Dr. Kim Williams, of Powder Springs, and Dr. John Sidney Williams, of Pennsylvania; and three grandchildren.

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