Amherst Magazine

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William Reopell '58 (1936-2003)

Growing up in Williamstown and working at the House of Walsh store made Bill Reopell’s adjustment to Amherst easier than that of many. From the beginning he was savvy and relaxed, traits which amplified both his happy-go-lucky personality and his keen mind.

His quick-wit made him a natural to initiate bull sessions of all sorts. But there was substance behind the wit – a skeptical questioning attitude. From the beginning he wrote easily and well. His sister, Larrie Ann Noyes, wishes that she “had the same gift of writing that my brother had. Be it a short note or a lengthy letter, he had a way with words.”

Writing proved a central skill in his career. After completing the Army’s six-month program in the Bennington, Vt., National Guard (with classmate Dick Norcott), Bill began his career on the staff of the San Juan Star, the city’s English-language newspaper. He would hang out with Norcott in San Juan bars after filing his stories at 10 pm. Later he worked for Readers Digest in Pleasantville, N.Y., and finally was head of public affairs at what was Jersey City State College.

After retirement Bill and his wife, Ola, moved to Royalston, Mass., about 25 miles northeast of Amherst, where they had previously summered. Lovers of culture, Bill and Ola frequented New

There always was substance
behind the wit – a skeptical
questioning attitude.


York for the opera, Boston for the museums and BSO, and Paris for his Francophile interests. Bill was close enough to the College to be able, for many years, to drive to Amherst, swim laps in the pool and head back home after a good workout.

He became active in town politics. He had a direct and forthright style and enjoyed the

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combativeness of politics. Elected to the Board of Selectmen, he became head selectman and the swing vote in a controversial local issue. John Bischof, who visited Bill on several occasions in Royalston, remembers that Bill “brought the same intensity, questioning, humor, skepticism and ‘Reopell-chuckle’ to the debate, tempered by 50 intervening years of perception, understanding and experience.”

In the midst of these town debates, Bill’s wife died in October 2001. Bisch remembers that the emotional impact was immediate. “The spark was gone, the cheerfulness more distant and ambivalent. He quickly tired of the political challenge and resigned his position as selectman.”

His sister Larrie remembers that “Bill lost his will to go on. He became very close to me and my family, as he had no children of his own. After 2001 I saw a lot of him, as did my children. He was especially close to my youngest child, Matthew, and my granddaughter, Ashley. Ashley shared the same love of the theatre and the opera as did Bill and Ola.

“Bill’s death in 2003 was very sudden, but very peaceful. He would not have wanted the end to be any different. We do miss his favorite ‘Whatever,’ which he said often. We all miss him; dying at 67 was much too young. Bill also left a second sister, Barbara, and a brother, Nelson.”

William Raymond Reopell died of a heart attack at a restaurant in Swanzey, N.H., Aug. 10, 2003.

Bill Reopell
Bill in Paris in the late 1990s,
on one of his annual trips there with Ola

William Reopell, 8/10/2003


“Do you really believe that?? Come on now!!”

Thus would Bill Reopell begin another bull session,
Stearns 4, freshman year. His inflection and tone
denoted a clear degree of skepticism, no matter the
subject. But, always a participant, always questioning,
always philosophical, cheerful, and full of enthusiasm,
punctuated with a self-satisfying laugh.

Bill, who had been suffering from heart disease for
several years, died suddenly on August 10, 2003, of an
apparent heart attack while at a restaurant in
Swanzey, NH.

Bill was born on May 6, 1936, in Williamstown, MA, to
Lawrence and Carrie (Dorvillier) Reopell. Having lived
in Williamstown, and especially having worked at that
town’s House of Walsh store, Bill came to Amherst
savvier than most about the ways of college men.
Chuck Smith recalls he was a good and understanding
friend to many of us on the fourth floor of Stearns,
helping us adjust to college life. Freshman year
roommate and later fraternity brother at Chi Psi, Mike
Bliss, recalls, “Bill was bright, with a gift of writing
well and easily. He did much better than I did with
English 1-2 without trying hard. He was very quick
with the repartee and remembered jokes well.” We
remember him fondly not only from Stearns but also
as sophomore neighbors in South.

His happy-go-lucky demeanor and keen mind
extending to his studies was again demonstrated when
he took Prof. Kennedy’s senior philosophy course (not
known as a “gut” course), never attended classes or
read a book assignment, took the final exam and
walked away with a straight “A.” Bill majored in French
and worked part time at the Jeffery Amherst
bookstore.

After graduation and a quick stint in the national guard
with Dick Norcott, Bill worked in Pleasantville, NY, for
the Readers Digest and then for the San Juan Star in
Puerto Rico and finally for what was formerly known
as Jersey City State College, where he was head of the
Office of Public Affairs. In his retirement years, Bill
was active in running a lecture series for that
institution, bringing in speakers from all over the
country. After retirement, Bill and his wife of thirty-
three years, Ola, moved to Royalston, MA, an area
where they had previously spent summer vacations.

I (Bisch) talked with Bill in the spring of 2001, when he
was living in Royalston. Bill was vibrant, feisty, and
clearly enjoying life. Lovers of culture, Bill and Ola
frequented New York for the opera and Boston for the
museums and the BSO, as well as Paris to further his
Francophile interests. Bill had become active in town
politics. He had a direct and forthright style and
seemed to enjoy the combativeness of politics. He told
me, “I am having a ball pricking the balloons of these
self-satisfied yuppies who drive around in their
$55,000 Land Rovers.”

During this same time, I (Jim) met with Bill on several
occasions at the home of a mutual friend and fellow
resident of Royalston. Bill had just been elected to the
board of selectmen and had become deeply involved in
the restoration of a controversial structure in the
historic district surrounding the town commons. In the
midst of this controversy he assumed the position of
head selectman (a group of three), with the two other
selectmen split, requiring that he cast the deciding
vote. The town itself was split down the middle—old
timers on one side and “newbies” on the other—and
Bill on the fence. Throughout the controversy, he
brought the same intensity, questioning, humor, and
skepticism and “Reopell-chuckle” to the debate,
tempered by fifty intervening years of perception,
understanding, and experience. It was during the
course of these town meetings (October of 2001) and
my concurrent conversations with him, that his wife,
Ola, passed away, with an emotional impact that was
immediately apparent. The spark was gone, the
cheerfulness more distant and ambivalent. He quickly
tired of the political challenge and resigned his position
as a selectman. He also withdrew from much social
contact, his devotion to his wife, of which he had
frequently spoken, and the impact of her death, clearly
evident.

Bill and Ola never had children. A brother, Nelson, and
two sisters, Barbara Martin and Larrie Ann Noyes, and
several nieces and nephews survive him. Dick Norcott
and I (Bisch) attended a graveside service in
Williamstown on October 11, 2003, followed by a
reception at the Williams College Faculty House, and
extended the Class’s condolences to the members of
his family.

—James M. Karet ’58

 

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