Lewis Kemper Williams (1887–1971) was born in Patterson, Louisiana, in 1887.  As a young man, he entered the family lumber business, becoming secretary-treasurer and later president of the F. B. Williams Cypress Company.  From 1949 until his retirement in 1971, he served as president, director, and then chairman of the board of Williams, Inc., a company with broad interests in land, mineral royalties, and investments.  Williams served in the U.S. Army in World Wars I and II, rising to the rank of brigadier general.

On October 2, 1920, Kemper Williams married New Orleans native Leila Hardie Moore (1901–1966) in New London, Connecticut, shortly after his tour of duty in World War I.  During their entire married life, Kemper and Leila Williams had a keen sense of civic and philanthropic responsibility.  Beneficiaries of their generosity included the University of the South, Boy Scouts of America, Christ Church Cathedral, St. Anna’s Asylum, the Junior League, and the New Orleans Symphony.  In 1937, Kemper Williams received one of the city’s highest honors.  For his leadership of the New Orleans Housing Authority, he was awarded the Times-Picayune Loving Cup.

In 1938, the Williamses bought two properties in the French Quarter—the Merieult House on Royal Street and a late 19th-century residence contiguous to the Merieult House, facing Toulouse Street. The latter property was their home for 17 years, during which time they amassed a substantial collection of important Louisiana materials meriting public access.  With this goal in mind—of making the materials available for the public to visit, study, and enjoy—Kemper and Leila Williams established The Historic New Orleans Collection.

Always active in and supportive of civic organizations, the Williamses recognized the importance of a stable financial base and so endowed the Kemper and Leila Williams Foundation.