William Gilbert Chase


Died August 6, 2006

College: Branford

Widow: Mrs. Susan Chase
923 Lovering Avenue
Wilmington, DE 19806-3224

Bill started his working life with Proctor and Gamble, but love of adventure left him dissatisfied with his “paltry” vacation time. He turned to teaching, which had, he said, three great advantages—June, July, August. He began teaching in 1967 at the Sanford School in Wilmington. After earning a master’s degree at Penn, he returned to Wilmington in 1969 to Tower Hill School. He taught chemistry, physical science, and physics and chaired the Science Department.

Acknowledged by many of his students for his teaching and his high standards, Bill took pride in his students’ accomplishments after Tower Hill. The White House Commission on Presidential Scholars honored him with a Distinguished Teacher Award in 1994. On a former student’s recommendation, the University of Chicago presented him with an Outstanding Teacher Award, and he received the Oppenheimer Award for Exceptional Teaching. In 1999, when Bill refused to comply with the headmaster’s demand that he change a student’s grade in response to a parent complaint, the head fired him. What at first seemed a catastrophe, proved a blessing. Unexpected “retirement” suddenly freed Bill for other adventures.

An avid traveler, climber, bicyclist, and hiker, Bill pursued his interests with passion, sharing his enthusiasm eagerly and generously. In the year after college, he hitchhiked through Africa, Cairo to Cape Town. He hiked several long distance trails in England included the Dales Way, the Cumbria Way, and the Coast-to-Coast path from the Irish Sea to the North Sea.

After leaving teaching, he journeyed by wooden dory down the Grand Canyon. He backpacked the length of the 211-mile John Muir Trail in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains and trekked in Nepal and then in Bhutan. In April 2005, he completed the 630-mile South West Coast Path around England’s most southwesterly tip, a route he covered in stages over several years.

Bill liked nothing better than to organize a hiking trip and then encourage others to join him, often challenging them to push themselves to new levels of achievement. After Bill’s surgery in May 2005, we both knew he had only limited time left. He wanted to be cremated, which presented no problems but I told him I needed him to tell me what to do with his ashes. After some reflection, he decided he wanted his ashes scattered at Kearsarge Pass in the Sierras. I agreed, on the condition that we visit the trailhead so I would know where I had to go. Off we went in May 2006 to California to see where the trail up the pass begins. In August 2006, he died.

A year after Bill’s death, I hiked with friends up to Kearsarge Pass (elevation 11,700 feet) to fulfill his wish. I carried prayer flags he had brought home from Bhutan. We strung the flags between rock cairns and, as the flags fluttered in the breeze, bid him farewell. Even to the end, Bill was pushing others to heights they might not have otherwise attempted.

By Susan Chase