William Peter Bishop, known as Bill, 80, died February 12, 2021 of complications from Parkinson’s disease and dementia, his wife, Sarah, by his side.
Bill was one of a kind, a true Renaissance man who lived a full life that was intellectually stimulating and physically challenging. Born and raised outside Cleveland, Ohio, to parents William H. and Ethel E. Bishop, he was introduced by his father to a life-long love of fishing. He also started collecting and reading science fiction, which eventually filled 30 feet of book shelves.
As the first Merit Scholarship winner in north central Ohio, he attended the College of Wooster, graduating with a BA in chemistry with honors. At Ohio State University he earned a PhD in chemical kinetics and radiation chemistry, and in 1963 he married the woman he discovered at college, Sarah Gilbert of Tenafly, New Jersey.
During graduate school, Bill and Sarah were introduced to Bluegrass music, which became an obsession, both to listen to and to perform on guitar. Husband and wife played and sang together from then on. Bill hated camping, but loved the adventure that might come from it like floating the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon before that became popular, being among the first 75 people to float the raging Rio Bio Bio in Chile, and mapping caves in Mammoth and Carlsbad Caverns National Parks. The biggest adventure of all was two trekking trips to Bhutan with 50 nights in a tent, which he managed to survive without complaint.
After graduate school, Bill worked at Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, NM where he conducted experiments underground at the Nevada Test Site. Again to balance the science he helped manage the Cave Research Foundation and move it from just an eastern organization to a national one.
Bill was recruited by the Atomic Energy Agency, then the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, followed by the Life Sciences Division at NASA (what did a Physical Scientist know about such things? Enough to earn him the Space-Ship Earth Award!), and finally the National Weather Service at NOAA.
Running the nation’s weather satellites was probably his favorite job as a federal employee, for which he was recognized with a Silver Medal. Soon the private sector beckoned followed by an academic position as Vice President for Research at the Desert Research Institute, a part of the University of Nevada System. Back to Washington, DC and the Department of Energy, where he managed a contract with Los Alamos National Laboratory to develop a large accelerator for the production of tritium.
The final step in his life was moving to western Colorado, arriving in Paonia with Sarah and two cats on Halloween, 1999. Bill became very involved with various organizations and individuals in the community, who called upon him for his professional expertise. When asked what his rate was, he said, “I have two rates, exorbitant and pro bono.” He enjoyed helping direct the Grand Mesa Citizens Alliance, the Western Slope Environmental Council, the Paonia Rotary Club, and Mountain Harvest Festival. He often played the role of curmudgeon on Bill Tennison and Felix Belmont’s radio show, “Financially Speaking”. Outside of the area he served on the Boards of Directors of the Keystone Center and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and on various National Science Foundation advisory councils.
Bill was a good writer. He received a Meritorious Service Award from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for writing the definitive document on nuclear waste management. While honored by that recognition, Bill said he would have preferred the Equal Opportunity Employer award for the 17 women scientists and engineers he had recruited for the agency.
Best of all, Bill was a feminist before that word came into vogue. He encouraged his widowed mother to become a civic leader. He empowered his wife to accomplish things she was hesitant to try. He enjoyed the company of strong women.
Never one for all work and no play, when told by an old friend, “Bishop, you ought to form a bar band”, Bill and Sarah teamed up with Zach Mann to perform as ZBS NEWZ. Then Mike Gwinn took them under his wing to form the Gospel Project and started teaching them to sing jazz. Bill’s high tenor voice and instinct for three-part harmony served him well in these two trios.
Another artistic outlet was Bill’s doodles. Sitting in endless meetings throughout his career, he would draw a simple image. Of the thousands he kept, he turned more than a dozen into large drawings. A local art gallery hung his collection for a month as “Doodleworks”.
His was a life of accomplishment and service, a balance of work and play, a search for understanding to quench his insatiable curiosity. If there is life beyond, carry on, Bill, as you have in this life. Farewell.
Donations in the name of William P. Bishop may be made to Hope West, PO Box 24, Delta, CO 81416.