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William H. Wood ’57

March 30, 2019, in Sunnyvale, California, from cardiac arrest.

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, as a child Bill sang in the Episcopal church choir and was an accomplished trumpet player. At Reed, he studied physics and philosophy and wrote his thesis, “Einstein’s Conception of Science,” with Prof. Albert Bork [physics 1963–68] advising. Bill married Winifred Jaeger ’55, and after college was drafted by the army, serving in Tokyo.

The Wood family, which came to include three daughters, loved Japan. Each daughter was bestowed with a Japanese name. In 1962, the family moved to San Francisco, where Bill worked for Standard Oil before moving to Los Altos. He had a passion for electronics and inventions and founded several companies, including Design Specialists, which designed learning lab equipment for schools. He later modified this equipment, designing booths for simultaneous interpretation and establishing himself as a pioneer and leader in the field of conference interpreting.

After his divorce, Bill met Janet Swid through a ski club, and they married in 1979. Their twin sons, John and Benjamin Wood, were born in 1988. Bill juggled sports activities, music lessons, and the milestones of his young sons with weddings, birthdays, and celebrations of his three adult daughters and his five grandchildren.

Traveling the globe through his work, Bill absorbed new ideas, perspectives, and cultures with passion and made a difference in connecting the world through language. He defined his success by how deeply he cared about the people and clients with whom he worked. In 2012, he was awarded a lifetime achievement award for his contributions to the field. That year, he suffered a brain injury that resulted from a fall. It took time and patience to heal, but the scientific and comedic parts of his brain were working at full capacity almost immediately after the injury. When, in the hospital, he was unable to recall the names of his family, he said with a knowing smile, “Into each life a little brain must fall.” He lived seven more years.

The loves of his life were philosophy and physics (he saw these as intrinsically linked with the humanities), his work, and his family. Bill worshiped Albert Einstein, enjoyed PBS—especially British dramas—and loved classical music and opera, particularly San Francisco’s Pocket Opera. 

He is survived by his daughters, Naomi Bowman, Kim Wood, and Nori Jabba, and his sons, Josh and Samuel Wood. 

Appeared in Reed magazine: September 2019

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