Deceased December 11, 2019

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In Memory

It is with deep sorrow that I report the death of Bill McFeely, one of the most distinguished members of our class and of our parent, Amherst College, since the days of its inception. Bill’s father was an alumnus of Amherst (1920), as were his son, Drake ’76, and grandson Matthew ’05.

After Amherst, Bill enjoyed success as a banker in New York City, but decided he needed a change of direction that would contribute to social progress in this country. He was accepted by Yale for its doctoral program under C. Vann Woodward, one of the primary academic leaders of the civil rights movement. Bill followed Woodward’s footsteps in a most distinguished way, promoting black studies with vigor and much success. Bill stayed on at Yale for four years after receiving his doctorate, during which time he taught Henry Louis Gates Jr., the great Harvard scholar.

After Yale, Bill became dean of Mount Holyoke College, where his combined academic and financial background was important during a difficult transition in the college’s management. He also became an outstanding professor in its history department. His seminal biography of Ulysses S. Grant won Bill a Pulitzer Prize as well as an honorary doctorate from Amherst.

After 16 years at Mount Holyoke, Bill left for the University of Georgia, where he taught for a little more than a decade. Retiring from active academic life, he became a fellow at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute and a scholar at Harvard’s African-American Studies Institute.

With Amherst now focusing so much on diversity and inclusion, it is a matter of great pride that our classmate was one of the earliest and most effective promoters of black studies.

Bill Smethurst ’52