MEREDITH — William "Bill" Harold Atkinson, 94, of Water Street, Meredith, NH, died Thursday, January 7, 2021, at the Forestview Manor Care Facility in Meredith, NH, after a brief illness. He was born June 29, 1926 in Lawrence, MA, son of Harold and Sarah (Ogden) Atkinson.
Bill attended Lawrence High School (MA), then transferred to Searles High School, Methuen, MA, Class of 1944, where he was recognized for his leadership and athletic abilities: he was class president, broke the basketball scoring record, and was later inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame. Bill served in the US Navy during WWII as a Signalman 3rd Class on a merchant marine ship mostly in the Pacific theater. After the Navy, he gave his G.I. Bill housing benefits to his parents so they could buy a home. Bill married Doris "Dot" Uttley in August, 1945, and with her unwavering support, he attended Springfield College, Class of 1950.
He was a former resident of Fitchburg, MA, Suffield, CT, Barre, VT, and resided in Meredith, NH, for the past 26 years, where he established deep friendships with neighbors on Lake Waukewan and parishioners from Trinity Episcopal Church.
Bill was very active in the Episcopal Church from his childhood, participating in church youth sports teams and summer camps when he attended Grace Church, Lawrence, MA. He later served for three years as Lay Youth Director at Christ Church in Fitchburg, MA. He was ordained a Perpetual Deacon in 1964 and served in that capacity at Calvary Church, Suffield, CT, and then at the Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, Barre, VT. Upon ordination to full priesthood in 1971, "Father Bill" served as the Rector of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Fairlee, VT, for 17 years.
Once retired, he remained active in the parish of Trinity Church. He also served as both Interim and Supply Clergy for many other parishes through the years, and as officiant for dozens of weddings, funerals, baptisms, all over New England and the eastern seaboard. Even without his clergy collar, he was often called upon for grace, blessings, and invocations at various ceremonies: reunions, banquets, and more, or even a prayer for the random traveler at the airport. Bill was a contributor to the success of various summer camps in New England: founding participant for the Bement Camp in Charlton Depot, MA, a conference center for the Episcopal Diocese of Western, MA; director of Christ Church Camp in East Rindge, NH, in the 1950’s; program directors in the following decade for Camp Woodbrook summer camp and basketball clinic in Center Ossipee, NH; Camp Robin Hood boys camp on Lake Ossipee, Freedom, NH; and then a separate Camp Robin Hood Basketball Clinic for which he was a founding pioneer in offering immersive clinic opportunities for young athletes before it was the trend. His associations with others involved in those camps led to years of lasting friendships across New England with coaches and players across all domains — high school, college, and professional, nourishing his enthusiasm for sports as an essential element of a good life.
Bill was also the visionary for Camp Har-Cliff in Owls Head, ME, owned and operated by the Atkinson family for eight years, and now a summer retreat for four generations. As such, it continues to generate new memories for the now four generations of Atkinsons since Bill and Doris made the leap into their own boys camp enterprise. Har-Cliff is a tribute to the vision, work ethic, and family bond that Bill and Doris fostered. Bill would entreat others to “keep the journey going” when a torch was passed among the family, and to celebrate by proclaiming “it’s a new beginning” when significant change altered the course of our lives. Sometimes that would include Bill offering a toast with a little Cap’n and Coke in the many family events there that he so cherished.
As an educator at Suffield High School (CT) for 17 years, "Mr. A" served as physical education teacher; coach of soccer, basketball, and baseball teams, and Athletic Director. He saw much success in winning soccer seasons (several conference titles and finally state champions in 1960). He was involved in creating the North Central Connecticut [Athletic] Conference. He was inducted into the Suffield High School Athletic Hall of Fame in 2003.
As an educator at Spaulding High School (Barre, VT) for 19 years, "Mr. A" was a physical education teacher and varsity basketball coach for two years. He then became Assistant Principal until his retirement; many a Spaulding student will recall the arrangement of furniture in his office.
As a coach, "Mr. A" was well known for his vigorous courtside activity and his protests and confrontations with game officials, which belied his calm and compassionate composure as a man of the cloth or the even-handed high school disciplinarian, and it earned him more than a few technical fouls. From his recliner, he showed the same vocal enthusiasm toward players, officials, and commentators in games on the TV.
Always a loyal New England professional sports fan, but before sports broadcasts on television were the norm, Bill could often be seen standing in his kitchen with an AM radio set on his fridge, constantly adjusting the set so he could hear Johnny Most announce play-by-play for his beloved Boston Celtics. Bill also was blessed to have friends who shared his passion for the Boston Red Sox and who graciously invited him to attend ball games at Fenway Park after his retirement. And Meredith neighbors will recall rotating as hosts for pizza and Patriots game events. Bill was an avid follower of the UConn women’s basketball program and especially enjoyed the community of other fans through the program’s many years of championship seasons.
Bill was a true patriot of the USA, a proud sailor and veteran. When his merchant marine ship sailed through the Pacific theater it visited many island battlefields on its way to Japan and Philippines. He witnessed the effect of that conflict and was deeply moved by the tremendous courage and sacrifice of thousands of service people. Many of those sailors, soldiers, and aviators were childhood and high school friends, and some gave the ultimate sacrifice. Bill never forgot that — he shared many a breakfast and coffee in various diners around Meredith while reminiscing with others from the Greatest and Silent Generations. A few years ago, he enjoyed an Honor Flight tour to Washington, DC, with fellow veterans of WWII.
For the last seven years Bill waged a solemn and vigorous letter writing campaign with professional sports teams and media networks to have all attendees at sports venues stand and sing our National Anthem together in traditional style. He wrote several dozens of letters to professional sports teams and to broadcasting and publishing agencies, and to any person that he thought might influence a return to this tradition. Such was Bill’s lasting patriotic passion.
Bill will be remembered as a man who loved people and lived for people: a devoted father, grandfather, and great-grandfather; passionate sports fan and coach; a patriot; an ecumenical and nurturing pastor; a competitor in any activity that could be won or lost, or simply bet upon; an unfailing source of positive spirit and encouragement, and an advocate for forgiveness and second chances. His deep well of spiritual and personal generosity was always full for others to partake. Bill was always there with a card, letter, or phone call in times of joy or times of need, or just to surprise you by a gesture that fit your life situation. His magic smile and welcoming demeanor were engaging and disarming. He loved Christmas carols, hymns, patriotic marches, overtures, Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, and any music for which he could pretend to be the orchestra conductor.
Bill was predeceased by his wife of 60 years, Doris B. (Uttley) Atkinson, and a brother, Robert E. Atkinson of Lawrence, MA. He is survived by two sons, Steven B. Atkinson and wife Paula (Atkins) of Royal Oak, MI, and Paul W. Atkinson and wife Linda (LaGue) of Conroe, TX; five grandchildren, Daniel (wife Katie) and Craig Atkinson (partner Laura Hartrick) of Los Angeles, CA, grandsons Matthew and Courtney Atkinson (partner Claire Bindler) of Plainfield, IL, granddaughter Kelly Atkinson of Oakland, CA; two great-grandchildren, Calvin and Natalie Atkinson of Los Angeles, CA; a brother, Kenneth A. Atkinson of Methuen, MA; sister-in-law, Mrs. Wilfred (Terry) Uttley of North Andover, MA; brother-in-law, Russell Lane of Sunderland, MA; also, several nieces and nephews in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Idaho, and Alaska.
There will be no calling hours or funeral. The family plans to have an in-person ‘celebration of life’ memorial service when the situation allows. Meanwhile, cards of condolence or memories can be sent to: The Atkinson Family, 40 Water Street, Meredith, NH 03253. Please include an email address.
In lieu of flowers, donations in Bill’s name can be made to the Veterans Honor Flight Network (https://www.honorflight.org/ways-to-donate.html) or to Trinity Episcopal Church in Meredith, NH (http://www.trinitymeredith.org/Trinity/) – be sure to specify ‘In Memory of William H. Atkinson of Meredith, NH’.