He asked a question to his intermediate microeconomics class that seemed impossible to answer. The students tried their best to impress him, but each answer left something to be desired. Finally, flashing a smile, he said, “No, you’re supposed to say, ‘Williams, that’s a nonsense question!’”

That wry smile and irreverent self-reference were two distinguishing characteristics of the teaching style of Walter Williams. He was the perfect exemplar of taking your job seriously without taking yourself too seriously.

Williams was an Army veteran, a Ph.D. economist published in numerous peer-reviewed journals, an author of 11 books, a syndicated columnist whose work appeared in newspapers across the country, a substitute radio host whose voice was heard by millions, a subject of two documentaries, a former chair of the Mason Economics department and a professor at Mason since 1980.

He was all those things and more. But what made Walter Williams special is that when he entered the classroom, he was only one thing: a teacher.

Never trying to wow students with his credentials, Williams taught the principles of economics, which he thought of as common sense. Every year, upon completing his Ph.D.-level microeconomics class (no easy feat), Williams treated his students to food and drinks. He was impatient with nonsense, but he was never impatient with the process of learning. The number of students who benefitted from his genius are too many to count. Many of them are now teachers themselves, passing on Williams’ teaching to even more minds.

As Williams persisted well beyond retirement age, his passion for economics undimmed, he was the kind of man that made you say, “He’s going to teach until the day he dies.” On Dec. 1, he taught his last class of ECON 811 to complete the semester, ending the 7:20-10:00 p.m. block around 30 minutes early, as was typical. Fewer than 12 hours later, he died, aged 84. R.I.P.