HomeIn MemoriamJune 6, 2013

June 6, 2013

The Deep Springs community learned earlier this year that William “Bill” Mack DS’68 passed away on January 27, 2013 at his home in Maine. Deep Springs Trustee Michael Kearney DS’69 shared his memories of William, who was greatly respected by many of his fellows in the Student Body of the late 1960s:

“Bill was an artist and craftsman, interests that he developed early as both his parents were artists. At Deep Springs he pursued those interests almost surreptitiously. He took advantage of every art or artisans course that appeared. He twice proposed that the Student Body purchase rock cutting equipment. I found no evidence that a such a purchase was approved. At the time the dean’s entertainment budget was limited to $26 and was controlled by the Student Body.

Bill graduated from Indiana University. He and his wife Ann both went to law school at Berkeley; Ann first, Bill later, each working to support the other. While Ann was in school, Bill was selling his photographs on Telegraph Avenue. As artist and businessman Bill gained sufficient credibility that he counted a group of anarchists among his clients. When Bill arrived at their house, they had an illuminated sign in the window that said “Smash the State”. Although he interrupted his artistic career to practice law, he was always planning a return.

Moving to Thomaston, Maine when he retired, Bill began his craftsman career as a wood turner, enamelist, jewelry maker, photographer, boat designer, boat builder… this list is incomplete. Riffing on the family’s nickname for him, the “serial hobbyist,” he adopted the name of The Serial Craftsman for his business. In my opinion that name was an understatement. Jan Vleck DS’69 and I visited Bill and Ann in April of 2012, and Bill took us on a tour of his projects and workshops. Retirement enabled parallel projects. Standing in the midst of one workshop, he would talk about work underway in another. He and his wife bought a beautiful mid 19th century house. It had a detached carriage house with at least two workshops, wood working, boat building and satisfied a house insurance requirement that a torch not be used in the workshops of the main house, a major renovation work in progress by itself.

Bill exhibited his woodturnings and enamels at Art Space Gallery in Rockland, Maine. His sculpture “Counterpoint” was exhibited at the show “Maine Wood 2012” at the Messler Gallery, Center for Furniture Craftsmanship, Rockport, Maine. He was an avid fly fisherman. Essential to fly fishing is the craft of tying flies. When not fishing, Bill was designing and sketching boats to build. His favorite spot in the world was the porch at Pat-a-Mac Cottage, Bayville, Maine, looking out at Linekin Bay. The cottage had been in his family for years and was among the motivations for retiring in Maine.

Before his law career and his law degree, Bill was a Deep Springer. When Bill arrived in the summer of 1968, Deep Springs College was a mess. It was in financial crisis. The original trustees, lifetime appointees who had contemplated shutting down the school entirely, were slowly being cajoled to move on by Bob Aird DS’21. The school was being roiled by the Free Speech riots at Berkeley, brought by visitors from Telluride Berkeley Branch. The student body was in turmoil with mid-term and upper class men departing early. There were many infractions of student body rules, including alcohol, drugs, and unauthorized visits to Nevada. The SB minutes recorded a single meeting in which 11 members were censured. The staff turned over faster than the students: One ranch manager had left under a cloud early in 1968, not to be convincingly replaced until Merritt Holloway arrived in late 1969. Dean Barney Childs DS’43 had resigned in the fall of 1968, though he agreed to stay on until his replacement, Randall Reid DS’49, could arrive in late 1969. We went through two mechanics and six or more cooks.

The students provided much needed stability; by May of 1969 a student body of 9 operated the ranch. Somehow, a Telluride Association Summer Program at DS was launched in 1969 against this background. During that time, Bill was always unflappable. He liked everyone; always had a smile; was always the mediator, looking for common ground. However, classmate R. Kent Davis DS’68 observed, Bill was dairy boy an abnormal amount of the time. It worried some. I wasn’t sure but that he liked the cows better than us. With years of hindsight, I realize Bill was the only sane student there. The cows were a normally sensible decision on Bill’s part.

I arrived at Deep Springs in June 1969; Bill returned for the ’69 fall term. The LC – Alan Kaufman DS’67 I think – assigned us to ongoing work that had us in the drained cesspool next to the new guest cottage. I do not remember the details of the work. I do remember the tone and some of the conversation as we worked. I was a first year probing the wisdom of a second year. Over the summer I had learned that 1968 had been challenging year. The more we first years learned about the prior year, the more horrified in some sense we were.

I think the conversation was provoked by reflecting on a prior night’s vitriolic SB meeting. “Vitriolic.” Bill used the word. I had not heard it before. When I asked what it meant, he explained it without losing a beat, without an attempt to score points as had characterized the meeting of the night before. All in all, he provided his views on what had happened in the last year, pros and cons, and ultimately why he had returned for a second year. So many mistakes, misdeeds and crises had occurred, the year provided a wealth of education in a petri dish. The Deep Springs community was reinventing itself. Randall Reid, Herb Reich DS’17, and John Mawby DS’53 joined the one remaining long term faculty member, Joseph Balachowski. They were followed soon by Roger Dell and ultimately Merritt Holloway.

Bill was not beneath taking a dramatic stand. He was brutal at the game of Risk. More pertinent though, Eric Reid DS’77, who was 12 or 13 years old and part of the DS family community at the time recalls, I remember Bill for his good nature, and easy smile. I think I also remember him place-kicking a can of beer that another student had decided was allowed at round-up. That incident provoked another SB meeting of massive self censure. Bill did not pen the censure motion. His example provoked it.

Denis Clark DS’69 observed that Bill was adept at keeping up the social contract day to day with good-natured communitarian instincts, yet staking out firm boundaries when it came to the foundations of Nunn’s experiment and how we carried it out. Integrity was an explicit value there, and Bill’s was complete as far as I could see; more than my own, for sure, and most others.

He committed a large part of his life to his career as a lawyer in the field of consumer credit protection, first at Severson and Werson, then at American General Finance, and Norwest Financial/Wells Fargo. Although he would have preferred to be a full time artist, he brought the same dedication and mediation skills he exhibited at Deep Springs to his legal career. His doing so enabled his wife to retire early, pursue her interest in antiques, and raise their son Andrew. Early retirement enabled him to return to his passion for artistic expression in many forms. Bill passed away on January 27, 2013, in his sixty-third year. Remembering Bill is to remember much of what makes life good and worthwhile.”