25 January 2015

Bill Callaway, 1943-2014

The program for Bill's memorial.

The landscape architect Bill Callaway died in the fall on 2014. I heard about it from a London friend whose October visits sometimes occasioned a dinner at Bill's house. He wrote me that "Bill lost his tussle with cancer." On 24 January 2015, my wife and I went to a memorial for him organized by his company, SWA Group, in Sausalito. The place was packed, which was good to see. Along with members of his family, the speakers included Peter Walker, a founder of SWA's predecessor firm and a mentor to Bill and others, and the architect Rodney Friedman, leading what must have been a Harvard cheer at the end.

Bill was a leading light among landscape architects and planners. In the panoply of that field, SWA has and had a strong reputation. It was never trendy, but it consistently produced good work, especially in the arena of commercial work where more high-flying competitors often faltered. Under Bill's leadership, SWA won the ASLA's Firm Award.

At a dinner once, I had a short, memorable conversation with Bill. It followed an even shorter one at the memorial for Barry Elbasani, another good man that cancer took early. It wasn't anything really special, but I got a sense of him. When this happened, other things made sense - I understood why Bill was the sun around which so many others orbited. When that light and heat go out, those lives can go dark. So I was glad to see everyone regrouping and hear the jokes. We all grew up listening to "Paint It Black," but Bill wouldn't have wanted us to take the lyrics to heart.

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