In Memoriam: Bill English

Photo of Mr. English

By Mr. Tony King

William H. English, a.k.a. Mr. English, passed away on August 9, 2016, in his adopted state of Wisconsin. While he told me and others many times to “Call me Bill,” he remained Mr. English to me and many others who worked with him or walked the halls of his beloved Wisconsin School for the Visually Handicapped (WSVH), the state of Wisconsin and beyond. Mr. English worked at several schools for the blind (Kentucky, Ohio and Virginia) before arriving in Janesville to begin his job as Superintendent of WSVH in 1970. He continued to support, to work with and to network with other state schools for the blind and agencies serving the blind during his time at WSVH and long into retirement.

Always the teacher, coach and cheerleader, he could always be counted upon for sage advice. Like E. F. Hutton, when Mr. English spoke we listened! Once I wondered why I was attending meetings in Madison with him and being introduced to staff I considered “above my paygrade” within the Department of Public Instruction. He smiled and told me, “It is always nicer to talk with someone than to be talked about. There will be days you will get calls from Madison and it’s always nicer to know the face at the other end.” 

Truer words were never spoken.

Mr. English had a wonderful memory for names but also for facts about staff, students, parents and professionals within the field and agency. If he saw an old radio in thrift store, he would let the radio collector at DPI know. If he saw a student’s local football team won a game decisively he would congratulate the student and ask about his brother who was on the team. Mr. English commonly referred to the WSVH family and certainly believed in those words.

Mr. English was an innovator who spent his life advocating for improving the education of the blind and visually impaired. He was great listener, speaker and collaborator. He worked within the school, the community and bureaucracy of state government with total professionalism and poise. Mr. English was a people person who truly enjoyed working with others and loved finding win-win solutions and building consensus amongst various groups whenever possible. He understood that within state government things sometimes moved slowly and at other times moved rapidly. Once when sommoney became available, he quickly spent in on several Apple II computers with Echo speech synthesizers which served the staff and students well for many years. He was willing to experiment and try innovative approaches to problems. If the experiment was a success great! If not it was a learning experience to build upon. He started providing outreach services to the state of Wisconsin because of the need was there. Comprehensive assessments were initially provided at the school and later within local districts. When new needs were identified, he advocated for and gained financial support from DPI in Madison. He helped serve students, families and local districts whenever possible. He always communicated with the DPI, local schools and families why things were being done. He was especially proud of this work with Northern Illinois University (NIU) and its teacher preparation program for teachers of the visually impaired. NIU provided teachers the state of Wisconsin needed, WSVH provided a site for student teachers and NIU provided vouchers that could be used to help improve his staff’s  knowledge skills and abilities.

Mr. English has received numerous professional rewards for his contributions and leadership within the field. A comprehensive listing may be found at the American Printing House for the Blind’s Hall of Fame website.

You may view Mr. English’s obituary online at http://www.cressfuneralservice.com/obituary/157111/William-English/.