The class of ’57 lost a much-loved and loyal classmate when Bill Jeffers died July 19, 2008 in Easton, PA. He succumbed to the prostate cancer he had been fighting for ten years with his characteristic clear-eyed acceptance and wry humor. Visits and calls from family, friends and classmates lifted his spirits during his last weeks. All found comfort from his positive attitude.
Bill was one of a big contingent of Lower Merion High School (suburban Philadelphia) graduates in the class of ’57. After Amherst, Bill earned his doctorate in low-temperature physics at MIT. Following a brief stint at the Battelle Institute, he came to Lafayette College as assistant professor of physics, to begin what turned out to be a 33-year career as teacher and administrator there. He retired in 1999 as full professor, having held three different college-wide deanships for a total of 12 years, as well as a 3-year term as chair of the Physics Department.
Bill’s success as a teacher and administrator is a measure of his perfect pitch in relationships with family, colleagues, friends and students. The conversations and public tributes that attended his retirement and death speak to his warmth, loyalty and absolute integrity. In his various roles as Dean of Studies, Dean of the College and Dean of Student Services, he was known as a person who made his decisions in light of the human reality of the circumstances, recognizing when rules and regulations needed to be broken. He worked as a volunteer with patients at a local hospital. He knew what to say to and do for people in trouble or grief and how to laugh with colleagues and friends.
Bill was one of those people without whom colleges cannot survive: one willing to take on the necessary though not often glamorous institutional tasks. He served on many college committees, often with complex tasks, and as president of the Lafayette chapters of both Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi. His ability to communicate clearly and persuasively without raising hackles was no small part of his success.
His great love was his teaching and his students. He voluntarily took on the introductory physics course, which he taught to majors and non-majors alike when he was not serving in administrative roles. His great joy was to hear of his students’ successes later in their careers. He was an advisor to many student organizations and received several teaching awards bestowed by both colleagues and students.
He brought this same loyalty to institutions and colleagues to his relationships with Amherst classmates. He was the glue that held together the Phi Delt class of ’57, keeping up a regular correspondence and letting all know what others were doing. Indeed, his awareness of the doings of many Amherst graduates was remarkable.
Bill was a devoted husband and father. He and wife Bitsy (Mt. Holyoke ’57) were married for 50 years. He took joy in their three children, Peggy, John and Will, and in his four grandchildren and several nieces and nephews.
His family, the Lafayette community and the many Amherst friends with whom he kept in touch over the years will miss this man of gentle humor, active caring, unpretentious intelligence and loyal friendship.
-Bob Shoenberg ‘57