Below is the text of my eulogy given yesterday at the memorial service for William Andrew (Bill) Woishnis. It was nice to meet Bill’s extended family and hear about his early years. And it was also nice to hear from Bill’s friends outside of work, and for me personally to reconnect with my former colleagues from William Andrew Publishing and Knovel. Bill touched so very many lives. His goodness is something that will live on in the hearts of those of us who knew him.
My name is Jim Willis and I had the privilege and pleasure of working with and for Bill from April of 2000 until September of 2006. I would like to take a few minutes to share with you a few of my memories about the man I came to cherish as a good friend.
One of my earliest memories of Bill is when I first started working at William Andrew Publishing (before I changed seats to work for Knovel). The first week I started, Brent Beckley and I traveled to Norwich from the Chenango Bridge office to have meetings. Brent and I went to lunch with Bill and Chris Forbes. I remember in the car on the way to Fred’s Inn that we talked about how William Andrew and Knovel had wound up being in the little city of Norwich. Bill loved Upstate New York and Norwich, but in the car that day he said, “You know, Norwich is a nice town, but it’s too darned white and it’s too darned Republican!”
For those of you who don’t know me, my Republican roots run deep, and I grew up in Norwich! I remember thinking at the time, “Oh man, what I have gotten myself into?” Bill was a confirmed, liberal Democrat. And I, a confirmed conservative Republican. But over the years and the many political discussions we had, Bill and I became good friends. You know why? It was because of Bill. He didn’t let political philosophy get in the way of business or friendships. Bill was one of the most open-minded people I’ve ever known–always ready and willing to hear an opposing viewpoint. Never quick to criticize or judge. Willing to try and see things from someone else’s perspective. That was Bill Woishnis.
Bill, like all of us, was a complex person. Sometimes he was passionate and would argue and debate vigorously. I recall some of those debates and no doubt you who worked with him do as well. One time our marketing team had a meeting in which Bill was in his passionate mode. In an email the next day to Leslie Lees and Delores Meglio, two of our colleagues in the meeting, he said this:
Dear Leslie and Delores:
I apologize for letting my passion get the most of my normally tempered reaction (at least I like to think this is the case) to things this morning. Better communication of my positions and vision is something that I owe you and will do my best to deliver. Please know that I think the world of both of you and highly value the experience, high level thinking and perspectives you bring to me and Knovel.
Other times Bill was a quiet peacemaker and very affirming. I recall being quite upset about a few matters at one time and I sent Bill a rather terse email about it. This was his response:
Thanks for raising these issues. Let’s talk more about these and other things that affect you personally in person next Tuesday. It is important to me, and always has been, that you find your proper home at Knovel – from the perspectives of both personal satisfaction and contribution to Knovel. You have so much to offer and I know the road has been a little bumpy at times for you.
I hope you read this message in the positive light it is meant.
Bill was sometimes passionate, sometimes a peacemaker, often affirming…and he always cared deeply about William Andrew Publishing and Knovel. I found an email a customer once sent to Bill following his presence at the National Plastics Exposition trade show in Chicago. The subject line says, “We love your service” and said this:
I just wanted to touch base with you and let you know that as a result of your presence at NPE, a lot of us here at GE Plastics, Mt. Vernon, IN are happily using your service.
We met briefly, and you showed me your website at the trade show. I was happy to learn that our company is a subscriber (through our technology center in India). I sent out a mass e-mail to the other folks on site, and I have heard a lot of response from people who had no idea that we had access. So, even though you did not gain a new corporate subscriber per se, you increased the hit rate quite a bit from our company. Hopefully we will continue the subscription.
Thanks very much,
Donna Bossman, Ph.D., GE Plastics
Bill was also contemplative. I recall on many occasions in one of our (it seemed never ending) meetings, Bill would often put his head down, sometimes propped in his hands with his elbows on the table, and just listen as the rest of us would yammer on and on jockeying to share OUR insights with the other people in the room. And then, suddenly from nowhere, Bill would offer a comment or opinion, and it was inevitably brilliant. Bill had the habit of letting others talk more than he did–a habit far too many of us have not yet mastered.
Other things I remember…I can’t tell you how many times over the years, when recounting how William Andrew Publishing got started, Bill would say that he was an “accidental publisher.” That when the company first started by offering in essence “printed databases” he didn’t even realize they were in the publishing business. “It just kind of happened,” he would say.
Another thing Bill would often say when we were talking about mobile technology, and ebooks and the like, “You know, if paper were invented today and not a thousand years ago, it would be heralded as the greatest invention in mobile technology ever!” And you what, he was right! Bill thought deeply about publishing and the business we were in. He cared passionately about it. He understood it like few others. And he was brilliant, truly talented in so many ways.
But Bill Woishnis was also deeply, deeply personal and thoughtful. He connected with people on a personal level. And he kept people first and foremost as his priority. Here’s just one example, taken from an email when one of our marketing people, Jeri-Anne, got married…The subject line was “A newlywed amongst us”:
A newlywed is amongst us in Knovel’s marketing group. In Jeri-Anne’s honor, there are pastries and fudge (for those who don’t eat wheat) in the kitchen. But before you partake, it is required that you first congratulate Jeri-Anne and wish her a life of connubial bliss. Congratulations Jeri-Anne!!!!
Bill brought the fudge specifically for Jeri-Anne because she was newly diagnosed as having a food sensitivity to wheat gluten, which is found in almost all pastries and breads. That’s the kind of person Bill was…personal and thoughtful.
But perhaps above all, Bill Woishnis was about family. There was NOTHING more important to Bill than family. Jeri and Aidan were tops to Bill and he made that clear to anyone who knew him. He put high value on not only his own family, but other families too. Let me read you a short series of emails back and forth between Bill and myself from 2005:
If you have no objections… Ben [my son] is playing in a basketball game today at 3pm. I would like to leave after the management meeting to watch him. (It’s one of the few home games I can get to during his season.)
Less than an hour later came back his response:
In my opinion, nothing is more important than for you to attend your son’s game. If you need to leave the management meeting early, this is fine.
A few days later I sent this:
I want to thank you again. It’s a pleasure working with you Bill. By the way, Ben’s team won–quite handily. And Ben made a basket! Very special for me to have been there.
And Bill’s reply:
To have your young son get a basket – what a great feeling!
What a great feeling. Bill Woishnis, it’s a great feeling to have known you, my friend.
Someone once told me something I’ll never forget: You know who your true friends are when you leave a company…they’re the ones who stay in contact with you after you’re gone. Bill was that kind of friend. After he and I had both moved on from Knovel in late 2006 we stayed in contact. In fact, he and Brent Beckley and myself, and later Russ Richardson and Sasha Gurke would get together for lunch every few months. At either Zazous or the Lost Dog Cafe in Binghamton. You don’t have to guess who picked up the tab every time we had lunch. That’s right, it was Bill.
I cherish those lunches we had together. You can ask my wife Judy and she’ll tell you how I looked forward to them. Usually the first thing Bill would ask me about was my wife Judy and our children. And he would name them: Amanda, Ben and Zach. As our conversation would turn to work, he would ask how my job is going. And we would discuss the publishing industry…trends, what’s new and hot? Websites and search engines. Marketing of all kinds. We had some great discussions, but mostly we just enjoyed each others’ company.
I remember at one of our lunches earlier this year he recounted the Caribbean cruise he took this past winter with Jeri and Aidan and his in-laws. He told us about Aidan and him taking off and seeing the sights on the islands they visited because Aidan’s grandparents wanted to visit the shops and of course there was adventure to be had for a 12 year old! So Bill and Aidan would take off and have those adventures. Aidan, I can you tell you, he had a great time.
Lest I leave the wrong impression, Bill was human and he had his struggles as we all do. I’m not trying to make him out to be a saint. But you know, I consider Bill Woishnis about the closest thing you get to a saint on this earth. He really was that kind of man. Bill was the kind of man I aspire to be, the kind of person whom, just by being around him, you find yourself becoming a better person. That was Bill Woishnis.
In thinking about today, one of the questions I asked myself was this, “In the time I knew Bill, a little over nine years, what would I consider his greatest accomplishment?” I’m sure we all answer that question in different ways, but here’s how I answer it: Bill’s greatest accomplishment is sitting right here. If it were not for Bill Woishnis, for his life, for the way he loved people and put people first, we would not even know each other. We would not be here today honoring this great man’s legacy. Bill’s greatest accomplishment, his greatest contribution, is that he has bound all of us together. We are friends with each other because we were friends with Bill. We and our friendships with each other…are Bill’s legacy.