Amherst Magazine

imageBill Jewett  (1936-2006)

The photograph, on the facing page, comments Bill Jewett’s widow, Julia, shows Bill at his happiest. “His participation in the life of the National Model Railroad Association was the joy of his retirement.”
Following his graduation from Harvard Business School in 1960, Bill and Julia spent a career “working on the railroad” in Chicago with the Illinois Central and then FMC Corp as a financial officer. He missed his real calling as a locomotive engineer but made up for it by managing a vast array of model trains. For nine years, Julia recalls, Bill edited The Dispatcher's Office, a quarterly newsletter of the Operations Special Interest Group (OSIG), devoted to the actual operating of model railroads and enjoyed by a mailing list of about 800 persons across the US and abroad.

Bill suffered a fatal heart attack New Year’s Day, 2006, while participating in an annual hike near Chapel Hill, N.C., where they had recently moved to be closer to their older daughter. When the OSIG members learned of Bill's death, tributes poured in, all describing the same man. Julia was stunned. “Bill was so quiet about himself, who knew how beloved he was beyond his family?”

Jim Hediger, senior editor of Model Railroader magazine, put it this way: "With his soft-spoken manner, Bill was one of the hobby's best known and most respected leaders in the realm of model railroad operating methods. He had an uncanny ability to distill complicated prototype railroad procedures down to what we could do on a model train layout.”

Bill Jewett

He added, “Bill never raised his voice, but everyone always listened to his comments on every issue. He was also the most patient gentleman I've ever met, taking as much time as necessary to teach a concept to a new modeler and make sure the neophyte had the correct understanding."

Bill's kindness and steadfastness in this mentoring role was remarkable. He flew all over the country attending regional layout operations. One time when Julia kvetched about his being gone so much, a fellow model railroader and friend of both said, "Julia, I don't think you understand that Bill is playing in the big leagues!"
Bill also devoted much thought and time to land conservation, specifically the Shirley Heinze Land Trust that worked in a three-county area in northwest Indiana. Land Trusts typically have to interact with many governmental and political entities to reconcile disparate interests. Bill's mind could encompass a lot of minutia, and his respect for others made him a warm colleague.

As both treasurer and vice president of the trust, Bill was an active and valuable board member. Chair Warren Buckler remarked on Bill's commonsense solutions to problems. After citing a few examples, he said, "Through it all, he remained sweet-tempered, kind and generous, and always managed to lift our spirits with a wry observation or two." Julia added, “Bill found comfort in nature, and it was fitting that he died while hiking in a state preserve.”

One friend who knew them both for many years said to Julia, "Bill was your boon companion and dear friend and beloved husband." Julia says to us: “Just so. I am both heartbroken and immensely grateful for the 48 years we had together. We married young, just before returning to South Amherst where we lived senior year. We wanted family and the four children who continue to grace my life, and were stunned by the suddenness of Bill's death.”

Robin, their oldest, who lives near Julia in Chapel Hill, said, “He was the best father I could have had.” Julia added, “She is a lot like him, and they were great friends. Son Bill, a lawyer in Boston, shares his father's mental acuity; George has a window-washing business in Aztec, N.M., and carries on his father's love of all things outdoors in nature. Margaret, our youngest, has just concluded eight years of teaching medieval French literature at Dartmouth and is living in South Amherst with her two small children and PhD-candidate husband. Visiting her there brings the journey full circle for me.”

William Hugh Jewett died Jan. 1, 2006.

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“Operating model railroads was a complex interest of Bill's in retirement,” writes his wife, Julia. “He served as mentor to hobbyists across the country.”
 

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