A Generous Curmudgeon with a Twinkle in His Eye

by Richard Yuill

On hearing of the passing of my good friend Bill Percy, I was caught between two very human reactions: understandable sadness on hearing the news of the death of someone close but also happiness, looking back at a life lived, including all the laughs and experiences I shared with him over the years. I would like to focus on three aspects which come to mind when reflecting on my relationship with Bill over more than 14 years.

The first was kindness. People would often refer to Bill as an old curmudgeon, yet I got to see a generosity of spirit and material help which was invaluable to me during especially difficult periods in my life. I was fortunate to stay at Bill’s “retreat” (for that was how I saw his Boston apartment) on three separate occasions: 2008, 2013 and 2015-16. During these “sabbaticals” he helped me regroup, introduced me to other like-minded fellow travelers, and during these moments I got to enjoy the delights of his many witty anecdotes.

The second was openness to new experiences. In 2015 I took Bill and his partner, Barry, to a hotpot restaurant in Boston Chinatown to meet with former Chinese students who were now studying in the U.S. He enjoyed the cuisine so much that he regularly returned to sample the delights of spicy Chinese food. He also entertained a former Shanghai student of mine, Howard in 2015, who still recounts his five days at Bill’s place as a truly wonderful life experience.

Finally, Bill’s sense of humor was truly unique. Sometimes I never knew if he was serious when conversations moved to certain subjects, but I took his bemusement at my Glaswegian accent as highly entertaining. Other times he would deliberately stir things up but would do so in a humorous way. He was certainly contrarian and politically incorrect, but these were just two qualities of many which really did make him legendary and a pleasure to have known.

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