Former Seahawk Tom Williams Soars
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Former Seahawk Tom Williams Soars

Williams, South Lakes class of 1988, is national finalist for White House Fellowship.

Linda Wolfe considers herself a pretty good judge of character. Wolfe, who works in human resources for Wolf Trap, believes she knows how to spot talent. So when 15-year-old Tom Williams showed up at her Reston doorstep 16 years ago, she knew he was "special."

"My mom was actually telling me to go out with him," said Jessica Williams, Tom's wife and Linda Wolfe's daughter. "She wasn't protecting me or anything. She was encouraging it. Tom was, and is, the boy next door."

The encouragement paid big dividends. The former South Lakes High School sweethearts, who now live in Woodbridge with their two children Dylan, 5, and Megan, 3, will spend their 10th wedding anniversary together in the Bahamas next week. "Reston and South Lakes were great places for us to grow up," Jessica Williams said.

Wolfe isn't surprised to see the couple together more than 15 years since she first opened that door. "When Tom, a friend of my daughter's, came to the door the first time, he was the most well presented teenager I had ever met," Wolfe said. "He was just so polite. At 15 or 16, you could tell he was heading for greatness."

TODAY, TOM WILLIAMS, born Thomas Rhys Williams, II, is still being noticed for his "greatness." Only now, it is the White House knocking on his door.

On April 30, the White House announced the list of the 30 men and women from across the county who were selected as National Finalists for the 2003-2004 White House Fellows Program, one of the nation's most prestigious and elite leadership and public service programs.

Next month, the list of 30 finalists will be narrowed to a list of 11 to 19 candidates recommended to President George W. Bush for a one-year appointment as a White House Fellow.

"How or why I made it to this point, I will never know," said the Williams. "The field of applicants is so accomplished, I am just really honored to have made it this far."

There's an orthopedic surgeon and a corporate vice president. There's an attorney and a librarian. There's a business school student and a U.S. Army captain. These are just six of the 30 finalists who hail from Port Orchard, Wash. to Parsippany, N.J. and from Dallas to Denver and points inbetween. The 30 finalists represent a cross-section of the nation's finest public servants, said Jocelyn White, the program's director.

And, of course, there is one U.S. Navy lieutenant commander from Reston, Tom Williams. Williams, the special assistant to the vice chief of naval operations at the Pentagon, is one of nine active duty servicemen to be named a finalist.

WILLIAMS' PARENTS still live in Reston and his father still teaches at George Mason University. His mother is a retired VA nurse. "They are my biggest influences," Tom Williams said.

Nearly two years ago the events of Sept. 11 helped sharpen the focus of an already sharply focused Naval officer. "I saw just how fortunate we are to live in a free society," he said. "I think I cherished the opportunity to succeed and the liberty to do so."

After graduating in 1988 from South Lakes where he was captain of his soccer team, Tom Williams went on to graduate from Cornell University in 1992. Seven years later, he received his masters of international public policy from The Johns Hopkins University. Most recently, Williams was an operations officer on the USS John C. Stennis in the North Arabian Sea during Operation Enduring Freedom.

While his deployments have been tough on Jessica Williams, she knows he is following his passion. "He loves nothing more than to mentor those young guys on the ship," she said, "besides, our time away keeps the home fires burning for when he returns."

Tom Williams credits his wife's strength during his deployments abroad. "I wouldn't have anything without Jessica," Williams said. "She is my bedrock, my foundation."

"OVER THE COURSE of my career, I've been lucky to have many unique experiences," said Williams, who has been on active duty for 11 years. "Obviously, this would be another unique opportunity to serve the public and broaden my horizons."

Williams said there is an altruistic drive, shared by all the finalists and past winners, that is refreshing. "I have no expectations about what to expect, if I am selected," he said. "I will always go back into my community and coach, or give back. I want to help out wherever I can help out."

Founded in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, the non-partisan program offers young men and women first-had experience working at the highest levels of the Federal government. Following their fellowship year, which begins in September, Fellows are expected to repay the privilege by "contributing to the Nation as better leaders and public servants."

That shouldn't be a problem for Tom Williams, his mother-in-law insists. "He has leadership abilities without the arrogance and the selfishness," she said. "How many can say that? He always credits someone, no matter what."

Her daughter couldn't agree more. "What you see with Tom is what you get," his wife said. "He never puts on airs."

The roster of past Fellows is as long as it is prestigious and includes current Secretary of State Colin Powell, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao and American Red Cross president Marty Evans. The next class will be selected over the weekend of June 13, selected from the president's bipartisan 30-member commission.

Jessica Williams compared her husband's nomination to that of the Oscars. "Given the talent, it really is true that it is just an honor to be nominated," she said. "I am so proud of him."

"We are looking for people who are truly committed to becoming greater leaders than they already are," White said

Once selected, placement is often random but demanding. One current fellow with the Department of Defense is serving as an economic advisor.

Williams says, unlike some other alumni, he does not have any future political aspirations should he be selected. "Anyway," his wife says he wouldn't make a good politician. "He's too honest."

Wolfe agreed. "I know, he will make a great chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff some day," she said. "Service to our country is really not a big deal with a lot of youth today and Tom actually cares about defending our country, that's the difference."