Bill Gaither passed away on December 11th at the age of ninety-eight. Born in Baltimore, Maryland on Independence Day in 1920, he would enjoy the country celebrating "his" birthday for the remainder of his life.
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In 1929, his family moved to Dayton, Ohio in their 12-cylinder Packard touring car. Bill started driving the family car at age ten. A self-confessed average student, Bill managed to achieve the highest grade in his high school in the statewide Latin exam. When called into the school Superintendent's office on suspicion of cheating, Bill explained that he was sitting in an auditorium with an open seat to each side and that "the guys around me were all dumber than I was." The Superintendent eventually apologized for accusing Bill.
After graduating from high school in 1938, Bill attended Worcester Tech, where, he said, "I guess my study habits were not up to snuff." His father gave him a choice of transferring to Norwich University or the Virginia Military Institute, and he chose to attend Norwich. Bill went on to play varsity basketball for Norwich, though he had been unable to play for his high school team.
One summer afternoon, while painting a house back in Dayton, a friend called him from Waynesville, NC, to ask for help in entertaining two young women he had met while on vacation with his family. Bill jumped into his car and drove four hundred miles to Waynesville. Upon arrival, Bill's friend asked, "Well, which one do you want?" to which Bill replied, "I'll take the tall one." And the tall one turned out to be Betty Walker from Beaumont, Texas, and the love of Bill's life. After Bill graduated from Norwich with a degree in Electrical Engineering (military school having improved his study habits), Betty and Bill were married at St. Alban's church in Washington DC in 1943. After skipping their reception, they spent an abbreviated honeymoon while on a train to Vermont where Bill was inducted into the United States Army. For the next 3 1/2 years, Bill would be stationed in the Pacific- primarily in New Guinea and the Philippines. Honorably discharged as a First Lieutenant in 1946, Bill reunited with Betty in Oakland, CA after winning a substantial amount of money in a troop ship crap game. They spend their first evening together at the Mark Hopkins hotel in San Francisco, where Bill had his first glass of fresh milk in 3 1/2 years.
Bill and Betty settled in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in a trailer park when Bill was hired by the General Electric company. The kerosene heater in the trailer left circles of soot around their noses. They were careful not to let Betty's family visit because, as Bill said, "Tom (Betty's father) would have killed me if he'd seen where his daughter was living."
As Bill was promoted at GE, the family moved from Pittsfield to Cleveland to Cincinnati, back to Pittsfield, back to Cleveland, to Syracuse, NY and finally back to Pittsfield. Fortunately, Betty also came from a "moving family," living in Haverhill, MA, Baton Rouge, El Paso, and Beaumont, TX in the 1930s (in later years, on the occasion of one of Bill's many business trips, Bill's mother in law said, "Bill, see if they have more than one paved road in Baton Rouge now").
In 1970, Betty and Bill settled in Pittsfield where Bill served as a warden of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church. He was a long-time member of the Country Club of Pittsfield and an accomplished golfer whose advice included: "The practice range is best for repeating your mistakes. Tee it up and play instead."
Especially after Bill's retirement from GE in 1983, Betty and Bill travelled extensively around the country and the world. They took many car trips across the country on north and south routes. Eventually they sublet apartments for extended stays in the late winter months in Paris, London, San Francisco, and especially New York City where they would attend the ballet, Broadway shows, museums and sports events.
Following Betty's death in 2001, and 58 years of marriage, Bill continued to travel, still driving cross country by automobile and taking barge trips along the rivers of Europe with his friend Elaine Raynor.
As his mobility was reduced (and he graciously gave up golf and driving) he began to create models from scrap wood and 2x4 of churches, family homes, and civic buildings. His ability to translate two dimensional photographs into three dimensional models freehand demonstrate his engineering prowess and emerging artistic talent. He denied any artistic ability, but trained artists identify Bill's work as "outsider" art. Examples of his work are displayed in many Family homes, and also at Kimball Farms in Lenox, MA, Bill's residence since 2001.
He kept up to date with technology throughout his life, though he retired from GE before ever using a personal computer. Most recently, he began to dictate on his iPhone (he had learned to dictate -to the "steno pool"- at GE) and use Alexa (although he called her "Alexia") to play Jackie Gleason orchestra music on Spotify.
Bill leaves his daughter, Fran Gaither Tucker and her husband Jim Tucker, MD of Syracuse, New York, and his son Tom Gaither and his wife, Pam Harris Gaither of Beverly Farms, Massachusetts. A third child, William Jr., pre-deceased Bill at birth. He also leaves five grandchildren: Lauren Tucker Avery (and husband Chris) and three great grandchildren, Mason, Hunter, and Ryan of Syracuse, New York; Lindsey Tucker McGavin (and husband Nick) and one great grandchild, Liam of Manahawkin, New Jersey; and Brian Thomas Gaither of Nantucket, Massachusetts, and Matthew Harris Gaither and Olivia Leigh Gaither, both of Boston, Massachusetts.
As an only child, Bill was virtually adopted by Betty's family: Tom and Ruth Walker and their two other daughters, Ann (Walker) Brown and Mary "Canary' (Walker) Gammill, along with sons-in-law Miller Brown, Jim Gammill, MD and many nieces and nephews. The Walker family relationship was dear to Bill and he enjoyed directing many Walker family reunions, most recently on July 4, 2018 for Bill's birthday.
A memorial service in celebration of Bill's life will be held at St. Stephen's Episcopal church in Pittsfield, Massachusetts on January 26, 2019 at 11:00am. All are invited to a reception following at the Country Club of Pittsfield. In lieu of flowers, please make donations in Bill's memory to St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, 67 East St, Pittsfield, MA 01201.