On January 19th, Responsible Wealth lost one of its founding members and a remarkable man, Bill Densmore, at age 88. Bill was a loving husband, devoted father, and mentor to many, including me for a time. Bill parlayed a successful corporate career into a second career focused on education, peace, economic justice and better end-of-life planning. He played a key role in the original organizing meetings in the fall of 1996 that led to the founding of Responsible Wealth in 1997. Bill was a passionate advocate for economic justice right up to his final days.
For those who were not lucky enough to meet him, I will attempt to give you a sense of who Bill was, and to share with you some of what was said about him at his memorial service last month. For those who want more details, there are a number of links below.
I first met Bill when he was part of the group of about 10 of us who met during the Fall of 1996 to discuss founding Responsible Wealth (RW) as a project of United for a Fair Economy. Bill went on to serve on RW’s Steering Committee for a number of years, helping advise me and guide RW’s early decisions on which topics we would tackle and which tactics we would use to bring the voice of progressive wealthy business leaders and others into the movement for economic justice. During that time, Bill developed a list of 15 corporate “rules changes” that would help close the economic divide, which he continued to promote over the years. (see link below)
Although Bill was less involved with Responsible Wealth in recent years, he remained an enthusiastic supporter and was always warm, inquiring and supportive when we spoke by phone. His membership renewal was often the very first one to arrive, a day or two after we sent out our annual appeal!
On February 2, an impressive crowd of about 500 people of all ages filled the large First Unitarian Church in Worcester for a celebration of his life, which was a very fitting tribute to his long life of service. His daughter Betsy and son Bill Jr. spoke, as did one of his mentees, Paul Reville, and Bill’s friend Michael True. Many of his favorite quotes were recited during the service and/or reprinted in the program. The congregation sang ‘Tis a Gift to be Simple, If I Had a Hammer, and Amazing Grace, and Bill’s granddaughter Eliza played “Imagine” beautifully on the piano while her brother Chris (a theater major at Carleton College) sang the song with great expression.
Many friends stayed afterward to console the family, share remembrances of Bill, and look at various displays relating to Bill’s life and work. Not surprisingly, there was a literature table near the door for some of his deepest passions: The Center for Nonviolent Solutions, the Better Ending Partnership, and the upcoming Rules Change Conference (May 3-5, UMass Amherst).
For me, the word “persistence” kept coming to mind during his service. Appropriately, Rev. Barbara Merrill spoke of Bill giving us all a “metaphorical toolbox” that contains “optimism, persistence and humility,” which really captures Bill well. She said, “Bill spent much of his energy in this existence in service to others. And we were the lucky recipients.” [Thank you, Barbara, for sharing your notes with me!]
Rev. Merrill also read some comments she had received from others, including:
- “Bill possessed a keen, penetrating intelligence, handsomely combined with an uncommon gentleness and civility. He so catalytically evoked the best in others through his pure sincerity of purpose, and the twinkle in his eye.”
- “…His whole life has revolved around nurturing civic action by successive generations.”
- “Bill’s calm, quiet exterior formed a kind of camouflage over a white hot flame of practical idealism that burned within. He had a deep sense of compassion for all, a passion for economic justice, and a conviction (born of long experience and observation) that nonviolence is more effective than violence in confronting evil and addressing injustice. Bill bridged the corporate world and the social activist world like no one I’ve ever known. He did it quietly, energetically, persistently, optimistically, and most of all, effectively!”
- “He was the ultimate networker, working with understatement, yet quiet force, to make things happen. He very subtly coached me and our staff team in how to manage everything. Always available. Always thorough. Always steady. Always encouraging and non-judgmental. Always curious. Always receptive.”
I will miss my occasional calls with Bill. But like everyone who has been touched by his life, I feel richer for having known him.
February 15, 2013
Rules Change Conference, May 3-5, 2013 (http://www.ruleschange.org or http://mediagiraffe.org/wiki/index.php/Ruleschange or email [email protected]). Note: Chuck Collins had a planning meeting with Bill Densmore and Rep. James McGovern about this conference just a couple weeks before Bill died.
Better Ending Partnership: 508-767-9877 or http://www.betterending.org.
The Center for Nonviolent Solutions: http://www.nonviolentsolution.org/about_mission.php.
Slideshow of Bill’s life (about 100 photos).
Lots of background information about Bill, including some of the above: http://newshare.com/wpdensmore/.
15 Corporate Rules Changes: http://newshare.com/ruleschange.pdf (see esp. Section F near the bottom for complete list).
Quotes worth remembering related to Bill
“I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.” - George Bernard Shaw
“A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.” - George Bernard Shaw
“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, …who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, if he fails, at lest he fails while daring greatly…” - Theodore Roosevelt
“It’s not how much you know, but what you do with what you know.”
From Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White): “You have been my friend,” replied Charlotte. “That in itself is a tremendous thing…after all, what’s a life anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die…By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.”
A Prayer for Bill
As a final note, here is the prayer written and read by Rev. Gary Kowalski at Bill’s memorial service [thank you, Gary]:
We give thanks
For those who live large,
For practical idealists,
For men who lead from the heart.
We give thanks
For the life of Bill Densmore,
Saddened by his passing
But strengthened by the energy and enthusiasm
With which he embraced his time on earth,
Inspired by his commitment
To building the beloved community
Of justice, equality and peace.
This church that he supported,
This city and its civic institutions that he served,
The nation that he defended and sought to transform
Are friendlier, fairer and more free
For his having lived.
Where grief casts its shadow,
When vision grow dim,
When souls go cold,
Enable us to remember
Those who reached toward the light
Who illumined our world with their honor
And warmed it with their humanity,
Renewing our faith
That beyond birth and death,
Beyond time and space,
Love never fails,
Compassion never ends,
For all are in the hands of goodness and mercy.
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