In the four decades that she has worked at the University of Miami, Essie Williams has seen a lot of changes on campus, including her patrons’ attire. Bell-bottomed jeans morphed into punk rock apparel, which then shifted to the grungy plaid predecessor of the label-laden millennium.
One thing has remained the same through the cultural shifts: when students at UM get hungry, many head to the food court and find Miss Essie, as she is known by many, running Niko’s as she has for the last 15 years.
Before the Hurricane Food Court opened, Williams was one of the most popular and warmest people working in the residential dining halls.
“I’m a people person and that’s what keeps me going: the faculty and students at UM are great and they keep me here. I just love the work I do,” Williams said, followed by her signature chuckle.
After graduating from Coral Gables Senior High School, Williams tried secretarial work but longed for more interaction with people and landed a job with UM’s dining services.
She has become a constant in an ever-changing campus community.
“I’ve been coming to Niko’s since I transferred here as a sophomore,” senior Brendan Murphy said. “Essie has one of the friendliest faces you’ll see on a campus.”
Williams even remembers when former UM President Edward “Tad” Foote, whom she regularly served food, came to her one day with a question often asked by students who eat at dining halls.
“He asked me if the meat was real and I told him, ‘Yes, it sure is,’” she said.
When asked if she plans to retire soon, Williams shrugs off the question.
“I hope to be here for another…well, as long as I can possibly go on,” she said.
Chartwells has recognized her many contributions to the university. Just a few years ago her supervisors nominated her as employee of the year for the entire southeastern region of the company.
Out of employees from more than 100 schools, Miss Essie won the title recognition and a trip to Las Vegas for her and her husband.
“It was my first time on a plane and probably one of the best, most exciting moments of my life,” Williams said.
Nicole Adlman may be contacted at email@example.com.