Stories about Bill

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Bill talks about his time at University of Virginia

This interview was conducted in September 2009, when a group of trailblazing black students from the 1950s and ’60s returned to the University of Virginia for a weekend of sharing memories and celebrating accomplishments. Bill was asked to share about his time at UVA from 1957-1961, when desegregation laws allowed him to enroll. He was one of the very first African Americans to attend UVA's medical school.

For more information, see UVA Magazine article:
Desegregating UVA – Alumni reflect on groundbreaking era

 

Video posted with permission of University of Virginia.

​From Lisette Austin

 

Facebook post - November 29, 2020


With profound sadness and heartbreak I must announce that my beloved Papa left this world peacefully this morning at 9:47 am.

 

Sadly, I was not able to visit him in the hospital or be there the exact moment he passed due to pandemic restrictions, but am grateful to have spent time at his bedside soon after he passed, saying goodbye.

Those of you who know me well know that my father and I were very close. He was a very special man, loved deeply by so many. He broke many barriers and helped countless individuals and families over the years. He was truly my hero.

I will forever be grateful for the many adventures we went on together, especially in recent years, and for all the time spent talking and laughing during what felt like borrowed time (he was diagnosed with heart failure in 2012).

If you want to know more about him and his amazing life, this article written by Horizon House (where he lived the last five years) speaks volumes. I'm also sharing a digital story I made in 2010 about my father's life and how we worked through a difficult shared experience at President Obama's inauguration in 2008.

 

God speed Papa, I still can't believe you are gone. I'll miss you, your unconditional love, your guidance, and your endearing, infectious laugh the rest of my life.

From Mark Smith

Letter to Bill

 

I sat for a while this afternoon

and stared out at the rain

pummeling my deck 

and streaming down

the murky window pane.

 

The amber leaves of the maple tree

above the rooftop next door

are finally letting go.

Twisting and turning

in the blustery wind,

one by one they detach

and silently swirl away.

 

I miss the glacially slow way

you poured pinot noir

and savored each gourmet bite

as we shared our most intimate thoughts 

one man Black, the other white.

 

We managed our hospital clinic together

and processed our private lives

through separation, divorce,

our teenagers’ strife

and when you finally came out.

 

But gradually, your failing heart

inched life’s rheostat down

until your quality of life was on the edge

and you knew it was time to let go.

 

I valued those nights out with you

sharing dreams and bold ideas

but mostly I miss 

your deep, belly laugh

raucous and full of life.

Mark Smith, MD

February 10, 2021

From Margaret Shannon

Dear Lisette,

 

My heartfelt condolences to you in the loss of your Dad.

I had the honor of meeting Bill when I was becoming a licensed mental health counselor in the mid 1980’s. He served as a consultant when I was working with children. He was a special man, not only competent in his field and a godsend to a new practitioner like myself, but a kind and compassionate man. That was his finest gift to the children and people he served.

 

May he Rest In Peace and in the arms of Love.

Blessings to you and your family,

 

Margaret Shannon, CSJP, (LMHC, retired)
Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace

From Erica Hunter

Leslie reached out to tell me Bill had recently passed so I wanted to reach out. I realize that I didn’t really “know” Bill as he was once living as his fully authentic self, or the kind of relationship you ultimately had with him in adulthood, but when I picture your dad in my memory he has a wide open smile and a warm laugh and a goofy sense of humor. I remember his gold necklace and his hip clothes, his Alfa Romeo and the tenor of his voice and his amazing record collection - all the antithesis of my dad, so impressively radical and awesome in my young eyes. Your father was kind to me at an incredibly awkward yet formative stage in my life and made me feel welcome at your home so I am truly saddened to hear that he is no longer with you. 

Aside from the unhappy news, Leslie’s message provoked a flood of very fond memories. Those of our friendship and the times I spent with you, Bill and Mariette and the cats.

 

I hope you, Will and Zane are doing well aside from the inevitable sadness, and are able to stay safe in these uniquely trying times. 


​With condolences, love and warmest regards to you all.
 

Erica
 

From Ruth M. Benefield

During Bill's time as Director of Child Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at Seattle Children's Hospital, I was his administrative partner.  He was a joy to work with.....always kind, thoughtful, committed to the Mission of the hospital and to increasing the understanding amongst medical and administrative leadership to the importance of mental health. Bill also possessed extraordinary skill clinically that was less understood and available within the medical community.

Bill considered moving to Mirabella in his retirement. I was excited by that possibility as were many of his physician peers that also live at Mirabella. Alas.....Horizon House won out and I have little doubt he contributed mightly to that community.

 

RIP....My friend.

Ruth

From Kathleen Southwick

Bill joined Crisis Clinic after his "first retirement" and worked for us for a number of years as one of our child psychiatrists who consulted with our hospital authorization program funded by King County. I always remember Bill for his positive attitude and great smile. He brought sunshine into the office on the rare occasions he came in. I think he worked with us for so long because he could do his job via the phone!

He had so many interests and was a true community leader. All of us who worked with Bill at Crisis Clinic send our heartfelt condolences to his family.

 

Kathleen Southwick
Former Executive Director, Crisis Clinic
 

From Elinor Ellie Graham, MD

Bill's dedication to working with under-resourced families and communities led to a great collaboration with the Harborview Children and Teen Clinic where he came weekly, along with residents in psychiatry, to see our children and teens who could not get psychiatric services in the community as Medicaid did not cover behavioral health services.

 

This effort established one of the first models of "integrated" health care in pediatrics where patients could get behavioral care and medical care at the same site.

Many of our families were immigrants and mental health conditions did not have cultural acceptance or understanding. I well remember one Ethiopian family whose teen started to have hallucinations and aberrant behavior. The family thought that they might be possessed by supernatural beings. Bill saw the teen and diagnosed schizophrenia and clearly explained the condition and got them and the teen to agree to try medications. It made a transformation in his behavior within a few weeks.

From Ben Black

Some favorite memories of Bill were celebrating Stonewall's 50th Anniversary at the Seattle Pride parade. It was such a happy, fun, and joyous day of celebration. We marched with the Children's Hospital contingent, laughing and smiling. I felt so honored to be with him and his family.

 

Bill and I also attended the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra: Tribute to Billie Holiday Concert and then headed up to Pike Place Market to celebrate Lisette's 50th Birthday Bash. I also enjoyed talking to him about social issues, politics, family, and community. He was a warm, humble, loving, kind, and very dignified man. I am so grateful for his legacy and all the communities he was part of. He will be greatly missed.

From Mary S. Stowell

I only met Bill a few times in the 1980's when I was volunteering at Fred Hutch, but he remained indelible in my mind. I so appreciated his directness and clarity. I will never again take Martin Luther King Jr. day for granted.

 

May he rest peacefully after his work in the world.

From Lucy Dickinson

Dear Lisette, my condolences to you and your family. Your Dad was a great figure in my childhood, at the helm of multiple camping trips like the one to Ruby beach and beyond, teaching me the visualization techniques that stayed with me ever since! Kind and friendly, he was met definitely in the cool Dad category! I got to volunteer with him at his clinic and learn how to work with children who were sensitive patients. He took an interest into how I was and where my life was going.

He took an interest into how I was and where my life was going. I remember your Dad and my Dad talking together those many times  I got picked up at your house, and now I can imagine them continuing the conversation just in another place.

 

Wishing you comfort during this time of unimaginable change and adjustment. The world lost a beautiful soul.  

From Bob Hunter

Dear Lisette, we were very saddened to see the notice of your father's passing. Though I never felt that I knew him well, I always enjoyed the times with him. And I especially remember some very fun parties in our two yards.

 

Remembering the time that we were both at the University of Virginia, I can well believe there must have been some difficult times for him. But he always showed great dignity and a great sense of humor. His success in his career attests to his quality.

I was glad to see that you and he had been able to travel together in recent years. Knowing the special place that daughters have with their fathers, I know those trips must have been very special for him. And I hope they gave you memories to hold onto during this difficult time.

 

We have a beautiful photo by Will hanging in our kitchen, so I often think of your family when I see it. Our best to you all, with hopes for a better 2021.

From Nancy M. Robinson

Although I never worked directly with Bill, because I was over at the Child Development and Mental Retardation Center, we were both in the Child branch of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, I think we first became friends on a memorable evening's cruise across the Sound, with a full moon and the Sonics winning the playoffs.

I was delighted when he moved to Horizon House but sorry to discover that by that time his health had become a threat that limited what he could do. He treasured his trips with Lisette (wasn't one a river trip in the north of France -- the Wine Country of course?). It's not the same here at HH without him.

From Barry Grosskopf

Bill occupies a sweet place in my memory, for the gentle humor and kind, respectful acceptance he accorded us all. He made me feel comfortable in his presence at a time I was rarely comfortable with myself. I am grateful for the generosity he and Mariette gave us when they invited us to their home.

Bill was a Mensch in the full meaning of that term, and as I think back on it, he was a Tzaddik as well. My heart goes out to Lisette and all of Bill’s family. How fortunate we all were to have known him. 

From Michael Reading

I am saddened to hear the news of Bill's passing. Thank you for this website in order to learn more about Bill as well as to spend a moment to remember and honor him.

 

I am honored to say that I knew Bill professionally, which turned into a personal connection as well. Prior to my current role as Chief of Crisis Systems and Services for the Behavioral Health and Recovery Division in King County, I was the Director of Crisis Services Services at Crisis Clinic. It was during my time at Crisis Clinic, 2009-2017, that I knew Bill. Bill was one of 4 consulting Psychiatrists for the King County psychiatric voluntary hospitalization program.

 

In our respective professional roles, I would have regular opportunities to meet with Bill, and the other psychiatrists, for case consultation and review. Through this work and connecting with Bill, it was always evident that Bill cared about people. He would express this through his skilled review of each and every case, being thoughtful to make good decisions in the psychiatric care of each person.

He was a strong advocate for wellness and recovery and would readily share his keen insights into the behavioral health system and resources. It is in this area that I was able to learn a lot from Bill. In my later years at Crisis Clinic, Bill became the lead Psychiatrist of the consulting group. This gave me even more of an opportunity to meet with Bill in order to connect on higher level program needs, issues and concerns.

 

During this time, Bill would often suggest we get together over lunch. It was always my pleasure to meet Bill at a restaurant of his choosing. Our lunch meetings continued to offer me great opportunities to learn from Bill.

 

I always revered him as a brilliant person for whom I have much admiration and respect.