Q: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself, some basic background?
A: I grew up in West Virginia, on a mountaintop basically. I was more of an outdoor girl. I played in the mud, ran through the woods, rode my bike and had to be called in at nighttime when it was time for bed. So I love nature, love being outside, always have.
At Harding, I studied Elementary Education. I actually wanted to study interior design, but that wasn’t encouraged at the time, so I went ahead and did Elementary Education — which ended up being good, too.
Q: What title do you prefer? I’ve heard “presidential spouse” and “first lady.” Do you have any strong opinions on that?
A: I don’t know how the rest of the world views “first lady,” but for me it sounds a little misplaced. I think it can put you at arm’s length away from people, and I want to be approachable and able to have relationships that are more spontaneous and organic.
At Faulkner I was an “Ambassador.” I like that here. I’m an Ambassador for Harding University. I want to be more involved, probably more than what other people might choose to be. I promote goodwill for the University, and I’m supportive of what Mike does.
Q: If I see you around campus, should I call you Ambassador Williams?
A: I’m fine with people just calling me Lisa! Some people call me Mrs. Williams, or Ms. Lisa, or first lady, but I’m okay with just saying, “Hello, Lisa.” I love it when people come up and introduce themselves to me.
Q: This can be a position of influence if you choose to make it one. Is that something you are hoping to do?
A: I do hope to be an influence. I think it would be a shame for me not to be involved and not to use the position that I hold currently because of what Mike does.
We have always liked to take things on together, and this is part of that. We’re a part of Harding University. It’s for both of us, for our whole family actually.
I’ve prayed a lot about this, how the Lord could use me and show me what he would like for me to do. He has been doing that, and it’s not what I thought it would be, but actually what he had in mind was a whole lot better than what I had in mind.
Q: What are some things you are passionate about? Where would you like to exercise the influence you have?
What I keep hearing, especially from women, is that it’s nice to see women taking a part, being a part, having a voice or a presence. We have so many talented women who are very confident in what they do, and so it is our loss if we don’t harness the ability that each one brings to the table. So whatever I can do to help make that better for women, I want to do.
I also care about a lot of other things. I care about people on the autism spectrum, and I hope that Harding will be able to have a position where we can stand in the gap for parents and people on the spectrum. We could help provide services to churches and to schools and help build understanding and bridges so that it’s not such a mystery to a lot of people.
You would think that all of those myths about autism would have already been dispelled by now, but that’s not true. There are still so many people who misunderstand it and who want to know more about it. It’s an easy thing for us to do, to help churches know how to bring families in that have a child with autism, to help schools use applied behavioral analysis and how to bring that into the community at large.
Recently in chapel there was a video shown where we talked about telling your story. It’s so important to be able to share God’s word with each other. I think if we could all share that freely and daily with one another, it will only make us stronger and encourage us.
I think in some of our darkest moments when we had our greatest trials, it was scripture, songs of worship and friends who would pray with us to help us get through those times. I know it can be a crucible especially for freshmen coming in, and for anyone coming here it can be a pivotal moment in your life when things are taking shape.
I really don’t want to be idle. I want to be used.
Q: What do you think is most unique about being in this position at a Christian school, as opposed to a non-Christian school?
A: I’m humbled daily by the comments, the notes, the texts, the hugs, the words that people share with us. It continues to remind me how the mission of Harding matters a great deal to so many people. For that I’m thankful.
We want to do what we’ve been charged to do, we want to do it well and we want to make good on the sacrifices of all the people who came before us.
There are so many good people here with such good hearts. We all have our bad days. We all have our moments where maybe we’re not doing our best, but everyone here wants to do good. I think the most humbling part is just how kind people have been, and we wouldn’t be able to do it without that kindness and support.
Q: How do you hope to foster relationships with students on campus?
A: I love coming to chapel. I love listening to students sing, and sometimes I get choked up and I have to stop and just listen. I know that the more I’m there, the more familiar I become. Little by little, more and more people come up and introduce themselves.
This first year is kind of a hurdle because there’s so much traveling to do and so many special events happening, but everytime we can possibly be where students are, that’s where we want to be.
Q: What would be the best advice you could give to students right now in the context of the world we’re living in?
A: I’m thankful that I’m not coming of age right now. This is a hard time, but I will say this: Choose what you listen to, choose what you hear and what goes into your head. Let that be paramount in going forward, because there are so many voices out there.