On Thursday, a mentor, friend and colleague died as a result of the effects of Lupus. I first came to know him when he became President of the Association that I worked for. I was the runner up. The board chose him because they wanted to get on a different tack than his predecessor had chosen to take the group. We quickly figured out how to work together, I think quite well and continued that collaboration for six years before he retired and then beyond as I succeeded him. During that time he taught me more about management and leadership than I had understood in all of my previous work.
Bill spent a career in higher education after completing a PhD. He went to the University of Redlands (where he served on the board for a couple of terms) and then taught there and began a rise in university administration. His last job before I met him was at Chabot College in the Bay Area.
He had a several skills - which I continue to try to emulate (some more effectively than others). One was an ability to listen. It is strange that the old admonition all of us heard as kids (God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason) is not followed more closely. Bill was the exception to the rule and had a special skill in keeping that standard. He also had a remarkable ability to synthesize what he had heard. About ten years after I succeeded him, I asked him to come back and help us with some strategic planning. I asked him to go around with our board and gather information and then join us in a retreat to help us think about next steps. At the meeting he did a remarkable job of bringing together 20 or so opinions into a thread that we could work with. I was working with a board earlier in the week, in my role as a consultant, and thought of how I have tried (imperfectly) to emulate what I watched in that role. It is a lesson I keep thinking about. Finally he had a nice touch of being able to synthesize what he had heard - to continue to bring people together.
One of his key roles during his tenure was working on a revision of the California Master Plan for Higher Education. That required a set of meetings in five or six venues - often with similar but not exactly the same participants. In the end we came out of that process with something that was useful to our members.
Bill had a good sense of humor. Early in his tenure he had played a trick on me - I am not sure what it was. But I decided to get him back. At the time we had second or third generation Macintoshes. He would commute to the Bay Area each day so would leave on most days by about 5:30. I went into his office after he had left and wrote a short Applescript which would start up an Application (I've forgotten the name) which made noises of a woman in hot passion. I thought it would be funny when he started up on the following Monday - but little did I know. My office was next to his and he came in that morning and immediately got on a conference call with the straight laced President of the University of California (David Gardner). He sat down, started the call and then flipped on his computer which immediately began to make the noise - as I rushed in laughing he was red-faced and trying frantically to shut the thing down.
Bill introduced me to two other things for which I am grateful. He served on a corporate board (including a role as the chair and then as an emeritus member) and I succeeded him on it. For the first several years he offered valuable advice and counsel on the culture of the board. It was much appreciated.
But then there is fly fishing. Each summer Bill would take a month off to go to Montana and fish near West Yellowstone. It was a way of keeping balance. He eventually built a house there and after retiring there spent about six months a year there. He was passionate about fishing. And little by little I have been drawn into the sport. The three pictures are in Montana, near his house and in a place that both of us loved to fish in Wyoming.
One thing Bill and I did not share was politics. He was a New Republic Democrat and I am not. We had some spirited discussions about issues of the day. We did share a passion for one political issue - the improvement of opportunities for all students in higher education. In one of his last notes to me he said he had moved to his new home to help balance out the voting. (Obviously in his half year home in Napa his vote did not make a difference.) In one his last notes to me Bill explained why he moved from his "beloved" California - "We left CA not so much in anger as in sadness. It seems bent on becoming a banana republic, the same status as the country seems headed for if the idiots in Washington cannot bring themselves to understand the difference between governance and campaigning." On that we could agree!
Bill asked that his ashes be divided between his new favorite spot at the Swann and on the Madison where he fished for many years.