In Memory

Stephen Birrell

Stephen Birrell

We are very sad to report that Steve Birrell died yesterday, May 17, 2023; he was at home with his family around him.

We will send more information as it becomes available.

Remembrances of Steve can be posted here, on our class website,

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05/22/23 10:16 AM #2    

Jay Freedman

In so many ways, Steve represented all that was good about our Williams experience, both as students and alumna. Along with his fellow Williamstown classmate, John Foehl, I feel like the heart and soul of our class has been stripped from us. Steve's contribution to our class and the College will endure for years to come. My deepest sympathies to Polly and the family.

05/24/23 08:40 AM #3    

John Leingang

Williams, and all of us, have truly suffered a huge loss with the passing of Steve.  In an age when many people spend much of their time asking what the world is doing for them, Steve was one of those who continually listened, and then asked, How can I help?  And then did it.  I totally agree with Jay that we have lost one of the “Pillars” of our class.  But he has also helped leave us with strong foundations upon which we, and future generations can continue to build.  Hopefully, future classes will be similarly blessed.

05/24/23 12:35 PM #4    

David Macpherson

I am adding President Maud S. Mandel's comments to the Williams community:

May 23, 2023

To the Williams community,

As we announced last week, Stephen Birrell ’64, who worked at Williams for 25 years, died last Wednesday, May 17. Williams has lost a beloved member of our community, and I write today with a full commemoration.

Steve’s many contributions to the college were profound and lasting. When he arrived in 1984 as the associate director of development, he oversaw the 25th reunion program and parent capital giving, to which were added the annual parents’ fund and major gift prospects. Seven years later, he left to become director of development and alumni relations at Amherst College. But his absence was brief; he returned to his alma mater soon after to serve as vice president for alumni relations and development, a role he maintained until his retirement in 2009.

In each of his capacities, Steve made Williams a better place. He supported and mentored colleagues, built ties with and community among alumni and formed innumerous friendships in the process. Outside the demands of his job, he gave Williams his time as class secretary, associate agent, admission representative, on the Alumni Executive Committee, and on his 50th Reunion Fund Committee.

Steve graduated from Williams in 1964, During his undergraduate years he played soccer and basketball, was president of the Junior Advisors and of Delta Upsilon, a member of the Gargoyle Society, winner of the Grosvenor Cup and voted the most popular member of his class—a result unlikely to surprise those of us who knew him later in life. He then went on to earn a Master’s in teaching from Wesleyan University and served in the U.S. Navy as Lieutenant, Junior Grade. Following his discharge, he took a job at Brown University as director of student teaching and the university’s Summer High School. He later earned a second Master’s, in public administration, from the University of New Hampshire, where he served as coordinator of teacher education and then assistant director of development for corporate and foundation support.

Here at Williams, Steve will be fondly remembered for reasons professional and personal. On the job he had incredible fundraising prowess. He created and managed the major gift program for the Third Century Campaign, which raised $173M—the most ever by a liberal arts college at the time. He next conceived and led the Williams Campaign, which exceeded its $400 million goal by an additional $100 million, thanks to gifts from a record number of alumni. Indeed, Steve was the originator of the concept of Williams’ “second endowment”: his description of the alumni loyalty, affection and dedication, generosity, and goodwill from which Williams benefits in so many ways. Steve’s outstanding work in nurturing that commitment helped earn recognition from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, which honored Williams with their 2001 Circle of Excellence Award in Educational Fund-Raising.

“Steve was important to so many of us in the world of alumni relations and development,” said Megan Morey, vice president for college relations. “Always leading with integrity and a healthy dose of humor, he was an amazing mentor, coach and friend to all and cared deeply about Williams alumni and their perpetual role in the life of the college.”

Steve was deeply devoted to community service, too. He served on the board of directors of the New Hampshire Council on Fund Raising and on the Military Academies Selection Board of U.S. Senator Warren Rudman. He also served as chairman of the New Hampshire State Council for Teacher Education. Locally, he was president of the Williams Faculty Club and served on the board of Greylock A.B.C. (A Better Chance) and the Western Massachusetts Regional Board of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, as well as the development committee for the North Adams Regional Hospital, now known as Berkshire Health North. Steve was also a trustee of the Williamstown Theater Festival and later an emeritus board member.

Williams Trustee Emeritus Dusty Griffin ’65, a friend and frequent partner for Steve’s walks, describes Steve’s warmth and ease with people: “Steve was an easy-going and outgoing guy. He liked people. He could talk to anybody. I think that made him a good fundraiser. I enjoyed weekly walks in his last couple of years, first in his Bulkley St. neighborhood and then on the college track. He was unfailingly cheerful during his last months, ruefully acknowledging his loss of short-term memory but regularly able to bring back stories from his high school and college days.”

Executive Director of Alumni Relations Brooks Foehl ’88 P’25 ’23 ’19 ’14 valued Steve as a mentor and friend. “Williams was blessed to have Steve Birrell as a member of its family,” Brooks writes, “and he was a leader within our family in so many ways. He was a dedicated alum and a pillar of his Class of 1964. Steve also dedicated his professional career to the fields of alumni relations and development, and Williams was the beneficiary of his two lengthy stretches at the helm of our operations. He was a ‘servant leader’ beloved by colleagues and alumni, and a person who improved the lives of countless others through his work on their behalf. We will forever be grateful to him.”

Steve’s survivors include his wife Polly, his daughters Rebecca Birrell Smith and Stephanie Birrell Luedke, and their spouses and his four grandchildren. He was predeceased by his daughter, Kathleen Birrell Utley ’96. The family is not planning a community event at this time.

Our thoughts go out to Steve’s loved ones and his many friends and former colleagues.


05/24/23 01:19 PM #5    

David Macpherson

Steve was also recipient of the Rogerson Cup at our 50th reunion. Here are the words that accompanied this presentation:

Steve Birrell, Class of 1964

It is now my privilege to present the college’s highest award for alumni service, the Rogerson Cup. Given by the family and friends of Jimmy Rogerson, Class of 1892, the cup symbolizes outstanding loyalty, achievement, and service in the name of Williams. We honor today’s recipient for a lifetime of dedicated service to—and a quarter century of magnificent work for—his alma mater. A Navy vet with a master’s in teaching and another in public administration, he spent thirteen years in teacher education before being tapped to lead the University of New Hampshire’s corporation and foundation relations program. In 1984, to our great good fortune, he found his way to the Williams fundraising team, rising swiftly through the ranks until 1991. Then a funny thing happened. In a noble, selfless, and ultimately futile gesture, he entered “the belly of the beast” as leader of the Lord Jeff’s development team. He gave it his very best shot, but neither he—nor anyone else—could rescue Amherst from itself. And so our hero returned to the fold in 1995 as vice president for alumni relations and development. The benefits that accrued to Williams between then and his retirement in 2009 are incalculable, though we can cite one calculable benefit. The Williams Campaign, which our Eph conceived and led, raised $500 million—$100 million more than it aimed for, with gifts from a record number of alumni. Beyond a day job that bled into many nights and weekends, he gave Williams his time as class secretary, associate agent, admission representative, on the Alumni Executive Committee, and on his 50th Reunion Fund committee. Most important of all, he nurtured Williams’ “second endowment”—a term he coined for the collective loyalty, affection, love, devotion, generosity, and goodwill that alumni feel for this place. In honor of a lifetime of dedication to his alma mater, for service way above and beyond, and for priceless gifts of experience, skill, and wisdom, our Rogerson Cup overflows with gratitude to: Steve Birrell ’64

05/24/23 03:01 PM #6    

David Macpherson

Steve's obituary from the Berkshire Eagle:

Stephen Birrell, 80

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. —  Stephen Reynolds Birrell, 80, of Williamstown, passed away peacefully, on May 17, 2023 at home with his family by his side. He was born in Orange, New Jersey on May 19, 1942, son of the late Selwyn Lathrop Birrell and Elsie Reynolds Birrell. 

Steve spent his childhood in Chatham, New Jersey. He graduated from Chatham High School and Williams College. He received a Masters of Arts in Teaching from Wesleyan University and a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the University of New Hampshire.

In 1967, Steve entered the United States Navy and served as an officer on the USS Keppler, based in Newport, Rhode Island. After completing his military service, in 1969, he joined the Education Department at Brown University, and, later, the Education Department at the University of New Hampshire where he dedicated himself to teacher education and to the corporate and foundation relations program. 

In 1984, Steve returned to his beloved alma mater, Williams College, to serve in the Development Office. Except for a brief hiatus at Amherst College as Director of Development and Alumni Relations, he spent the rest of his career at Williams College, serving as the Vice President for Alumni Relations and Development, retiring in 2009.

Steve was most proud of his alumni and development staff and devoted alumni in their accomplishments during the “Williams Campaign,” at that time the largest fund-raising effort Williams College had completed. He was dedicated to nurturing what he called the Williams “second endowment,” the immeasurable loyalty, affection and generosity the alumni feel toward Williams College. Among the honors Steve received at Williams was the Rogerson Cup, symbolizing outstanding loyalty, achievement, and service to the college, the highest award given to an alumnus. 

Steve was honored to be a Trustee Emeriti of the Williamstown Theater Festival.

He lived by the words of the former president of Williams College, John E. Sawyer, in his “Charge” to the Class of 1964: 

“Don’t be afraid to affirm. Don’t be afraid to give your energy and ideas and support to what is on balance good and constructive, to what can foster dignity, decency and opportunity on this earth.”

He is survived by his wife of 56 years, Pauline “Polly” McNeely Birrell, his daughters, Rebecca Birrell Smith and son-in-law, John Thomas Smith III of Brunswick, ME, Stephanie Birrell Luedke and son-in-law, Frederick “Fritz” Luedke II of Ridgefield, CT, his sister, Susan Birrell and her partner, Nancy Romalov of Iowa City, IA, and his four grandchildren, Jackson Thomas Luedke, Cecelia Anne Smith, Chase Reynolds Utley, and Stephen Paul Utley. He was predeceased by his beloved daughter, Kathleen Reynolds Utley.

The family wishes to express our deepest gratitude to HospiceCare in The Berkshires and the home health aides from At Home, TLC for their exceptional care in Steve’s final weeks.

A private graveside service for the immediate family will be held in the Williams College cemetery. Memorial contributions may be made to the Williams College Alumni Office, Williamstown; St. John’s Episcopal Church, Park St., Williamstown; or the Alzheimer’s Association.

05/25/23 02:49 PM #7    

Richard Plumer

Steve Birrell was president of my fraternity, Delta Upsilon, and we played soccer together my freshman year. I'm sure there are many people who will agree with me when I say he was one of the nicest guys I've ever known.

05/26/23 01:38 PM #8    

Richard Mitchell

Although my comments are far more pedestrian than the many eloquent n familiar ones from those who were fortunate enough to remain friends n respectful admirers over our many years from experiencing Williams pre-Angevin's, Steve Birrell has always been a point of pride n appreciation for what I consider as my best memories.  A colleague, yes, but also a friend whose warmth n compassion, of interest n solicitude always, have remained as sentinels for my love of Williams. I share the sincerity of feelings expressed by other writers above that Steve has enriched our lives by his presence and our sense of loss at his passing.

05/26/23 05:41 PM #9    

Peter Johannsen

Steve was one of my roommates freshman and sophomore years.   He has been a great friend since that time.

We kept in touch as we went through our evolving stages of life—graduate schools, Navy (for Steve), new and changing employments, marriages, raising children, enjoying grandchildren, and growing older.

One of the pleasures of our friendship was seeing  Steve and Polly in Williamstown—what a beautiful place in which to visit a lovely couple.

So now I grieve for Steve and Polly and the rest of the Birrell family.

Peter Johannsen

05/29/23 11:43 PM #10    

Peter Wiley

Steve Birrell

In Memory of a Hometown Friend

By Peter Wiley

May 25, 2023


Steve and I met on a baseball diamond in Chatham, New Jersey, in the early 1950s. Chatham – kind of like Leave it to Beaver as rendered by Norman Rockwell -- was emerging as a commuter town 15 miles west of New York. Steve lived a few blocks away and one block from John Storey, another Williams (’65) compadre and Little League baseball player.


We played for the Chatham Jays. Steve was headed to becoming a tall, gangly kid with an infectious smile and a very warm personality full of enthusiasm. From Little League we moved on to Tri-County Baseball on the Chatham Eskies. Both Steve and John turned out to be ace athletes captaining soccer and basketball teams at Chatham High School.   


In Little League, Steve and I  switched back and forth between pitching, first and third base on a diamond that I would later learn was very close to where Polly McNeely, Steve’s wife, grew up. I also learned later, much later, on one of my visits to the Birrell household in Williamstown that Steve was an avid collector of family memorabilia, including box score clippings from baseball past our past. Steve led me down to his basement office, walls covered with photos, college banners, and other memorabilia. He pulled out a scrap book and asked me to check out a few of the Jays’ box scores, pointing out that he consistently out hit and out pitched me by a small margin, but enough to make his point. My only comeback was that to my surprise at a Little League awards banquet I was handed a baseball signed by the Dodgers by Clem Labine for going 8-0 one season. Touché, Dude.  


I have fond memories of those innocent days, eating lunch at Steve’s house sitting at a table looking out into his typical, modest suburban back yard, florid with dog wood trees in a baseball springtime. His mother served sandwiches on white bread and Campbell’s tomato soup. We were happy go lucky kids in our suburban cocoon. We were soon to experience a few degrees of separation due to our school experiences. I went to two private schools before Williams while Steve attended Chatham public schools graduating from Chatham High as class president, an early sign of his leadership capabilities. We were part of a cluster of pre-teens and teens spread out across our neighborhood who hung out shooting baskets at a house next to my family’s, went to church regularly, became Brownie/Cub Scouts and Boy/Girl Scouts, began to party together, and experienced first kiss friendships.


I don’t recall how I found out that Steve was headed for Williams. I did find out at Pingry that Pete Johannsen, my brilliant classmate, was going to Williams as well. Why not hook up with Steve and become roommates, which is what we did. Freshman year we lived in Williams Hall where Steve and I shared a bedroom while Pete drew straws for the privilege of his own bedroom.  It was party and prank time including moving Johannsen’s furniture, his bed, his rug, and a lamp with electricity, out on the lawn in front of the building when he was chasing ladies at a nearby college and filling the bedroom of one of our junior advisors with wadded balls of newspapers. Steve and I were fascinated, as most freshmen were, by Louis, the French-Canadian janitor, whose grasp of Anglo-Saxonisms far outstretched your average marine sergeant. It was Louis, who had to clean up after our massive water fights that left a few inches on the basement floor. And it was Louis who had to arrange to replace the dozens of windows we broke in snow ball fights. Steve was more focused and serious than I was including being a regular church goer while I was exiting my attachment to the Episcopal Church and thoughts about being a minister. I used to leave obnoxious notes on his dresser about our religious differences reminding him not to miss church or chapel and with other comments I am embarrassed to repeat.


At Williams our lives diverged with Steve headed for fraternity life while I became a non-affiliate, a resident of Morgan Hall, and a regular at our non-affiliate dining room in the student union with its own peculiar cast of characters including bikers, filmmakers, folkies, young men exploring their sexual identity, politicos, a source of lousy pot from Greenwich Village, and young faculty members who enjoyed our company. We thought we were hip – more hip than the frat boys – and were intellectually pretentious as we dove into leftist literature and books like Aldous Huxley’s Doors of Perception and D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover.


Post-Williams we renewed our friendship quite a few years later when I found out that Steve was working in development and teacher education at the University of New Hampshire where my brother-in-law was teaching. I wish I could trace our friendship through a memory fog from there to regular get togethers with Steve after I moved to San Francisco, and Steve, as head of development at Williams, was shaking his California money tree connections with a Williams president in toe. I made it clear that I wasn’t going to be anymore than a token donor to Williams given the college’s vast financial resources (thanks to Steve and his team). Never mind was Steve’s response, I’d like to introduce you to President X. I think you, as a research and education publisher, would enjoy a good conversation, which was true. We made sure we had time over a meal, just the two of us, to get caught up about our personal lives. How kind and gracious of Steve and what a wonderful way for me to track Williams’ steady upward track from the Williams of the 1960s to a high-powered, progressive, diverse institution that has lived up to its reputation as one of the best academies of its kind.


Over these years, Steve pushed me to visit Williams, which I began to do on a semi-regular basis, enjoying get togethers with Steve and John and meeting Polly. These were years when my admiration and fondness for Steve grew by leaps and bounds, knowing, for example, that he and Polly devoted a good part of their life to co-parenting their grandchildren who were being raised by their widowed son-in-law. I marveled at what it was like to live in a small educational community in relative isolation hearing from Steve about the ways in which he took advantage of Williams academic programing to become a unique kind of well-educated post-doc. Besides reconstructing our past experiences and finding out the different ways in which we lived our post-graduate lives, we talked endlessly about our families, our work lives, and our intellectual interests including – our course -- what we were currently reading. Our lives were in many ways different, but we found a generous and affectionate communality.


At one point Steve encouraged me to visit Williams and spend time with Professor Jeff Burger, a Williams math professor and Wiley author, known for his student-focused pedagogy and his senior seminar organized by and led by students. I attended his math class, which was led by students, with him coaching a bit from the back of the room. Jeff asked me to have dinner with his seminar students and to talk to them about a major mistake I had made in my life and how I dealt with it. I was impressed by the diversity of this group of very sophisticated students. How different Williams had become from what it was in the Sixties. I nervously pondered the assignment, with lots of mistakes to choose from, and decided to say that the mistake I made was attending Williams. I admitted that I was drawn to Williams on early admissions by stories about hard partying I heard when I visited the campus in the winter of 1959 and not much more. I graduated from a fairly conventional, academically boring New Jersey prep school where a very small handful of teachers were inspiring and where I was first exposed to racism, anti-semitism, and what it was like to be white, male and privileged.


At Williams I found that the college was also struggling with its own challenges with racism and anti-semitism. I was puzzled by the startling imbalance between brilliant professors, like Red Fred Schumann, Frank Gifford, Robert G. L. Waite, and guest lecturers like Sir John Pope Hennesey and Norman MacKenzie, and professors who showed up for class clearly befuddled by alcohol. Frat life seemed to be a bastion of dangerously hard drinking and anti-intellectualism. Williams in those days was clearly a school for the white elite, and I was the privileged brat who chose to go there for juvenile reasons.


After I said this, there was a nervous pause in the conversation. I assured the group that Williams was a very, very different place from what I experienced in the 1960s. My most startling encounter with the Williams experience, I went on to say, was the public surfacing of the fact that Williams’ frat houses were honoring discriminatory language that barred Blacks and Jews from fraternities followed by the long struggle to take down the fraternity system.      


I described how many years after graduation I was surprised to find out that William Sloan Coffin, Williams chaplain in 1957, had the courage to raise the issue of fraternity houses as discriminatory institutions with Williams’ president, James Phinney Baxter. I had been introduced to Coffin’s views about Christianity at a prep school religious conference my senior year at Pingry. At the time I was considering a life as a Christian minister. In his memoir Coffin wrote, “When Christians “see Christ healing the hurt, empowering the weak, scorning the powerful,” they are “seeing transparently the power of God at work.” At the conference Sloan spoke of Rosa Park s and the Montgomery bus boycott as examples of “the power of God at work.” I got a sample of what Sloan was talking about as an eleven year old working on my uncle’s Long Island farm alongside black migrant workers. At Williams, Sloan felt both uncomfortable with the isolation, but more so with the fraternities’ blatant discrimination. He asked President Baxter what he planned to do about this situation. Baxter’s response was nothing. Plus he forbad Sloan to write about his views. One house, “the Dekes,” Sloan wrote, responded by emptying “a double-barreled shotgun into our living room.” Sloan moved on to Yale.


What was my point? Sloan inspired me to think beyond the norms of my privileged life leading after to Williams to years of dedication to activism in the movements that fought to secure civil rights, an end to poverty, and the war in Vietnam. Burger’s students were experiencing the outcome of years of reform and plenty of investment – thank you, Steve Birrell and team -- that made it the diverse, progressive college that it was. My challenge at Williams, I explained, was trying to find the right way to counter my privilege with activism. Over dinner, Jeff, Steve, and I rehashed my experience with Jeff’s students, another thoughtful evening of discourse, thank you again, Steve.


After Williams I wandered westward to the left coast. Steve joined the US Navy and dedicated his life to teaching, fundraising, and a wide range of community service, described in detail in President Maud Mandel’s tribute addressed to the Williams Community. Deep down, no matter our differences, we connected, reconnected, and reconnected again finding mutual ground to share our affection for each other.


Steve and my most memorable get together was at the class of 1964’s fiftieth reunion. I was hesitant to attend, expecting days of drinking and golf. I packed some good books to read and moved in with Steve and Polly for the duration. The reunion was an amazing experience as I found out that in different ways so many of our classmates had dedicated themselves to work that advanced human welfare. I was exposed to days of rigorous, very stimulating academic programming in a variety of fields that drew me to meeting after meeting. Why should I be surprised that we, in different ways, are children of the Sixties. Clearly Williams graduated some brilliant individuals whose societal contributions were significant. Most of all, I enjoyed my private tour of the campus where Steve pointed out building after building that as head of development, which he had played a leading role in raising funds for. Each building had its own story adding up to Steve’s huge contribution to the evolution of Williams as a progressive educational institution.


President Maud Mandel’s letter to the Williams community shows the remarkable extent of Steve’s work on behalf of Williams and many other civic organization. Could it be the work of one person? Steve, always enthusiastic, had the commitment and energy of more than one person.


I broke my promise about making a substantial donation to Williams behind Steve’s back. I wanted to do something to honor Steve’s contributions to Williams and share with him how much our friendship meant to me. We settled on – what else? -- dedicating a book collection to Steve in his honor, which is now located in the main library.


Somewhere in the beginning of the COVID crisis, I missed a hint that Steve was not doing well when he responded briefly to an email. Steve has moved on to The Great Unknown. I’ll be following him sooner than later. It warms my heart to be scribbling away about our long, long friendship. Reflecting on our friendship over something like 70 years has helped me understand what a privilege and learning experience it was to know Steve. Thank you, Brother, for your loving companionship off and on for so many years.  


07/09/23 11:13 PM #11    

Peter Buttenheim

July 9,2023

Dear Classmates,

Steve Birrell was such a unique friend to me that it has taken me weeks to sit down and write something for this space. Please bear with me as I am still emotional on the subject of Steve's death.

Thanks to a conversation with Polly, I visited with Steve in Williamstown on May 11. He died six days later. I think I am still in a state of disbelief at Steve's passing so soon after that visit as his warmth, humor, and smile were as strong as ever on May 11. 

Before I say my piece about this extraordinary classmate and friend, I want to give special thanks to Dave MacPherson and Peter Wiley for their many contributions to the Class of 1964's Web Site regarding Steve.

Meeting Steve at freshman soccer in September, 1960, was special. He was a true gentleman on and off the pitch with that wonderful, wry sense of humor. When I knew at the end of the season that I would never make the varsity squad, it was Steve who suggested to me that I consider managing the freshman team in the fall of 1961. I followed Steve's advice and managed for Phil Smith and Hank Flynt with the Class of 1965. Steve's idea launched me into decades of coaching soccer after college.

A number of us were AH&L majors in the Class of 1964, and I can remember well lots of conversations in the Snack Bar with Steve and other AH&L classmates about our course work. It was the 1960s of course, and, when the conversations got heated, it was Steve who was the E.F. Hutton guy. Steve would keep his own counsel, but, when he spoke up, everyone else hushed up ASAP and listened to Steve.

My strongest college memory of Steve regards our being fraternity presidents during the shift from fraternities to college houses. Some houses were 100% PRO the changes; others were 100% ANTI the changes. Our house, Phi Delt (a local) had some complex issues of our own, and we were caught in the middle -- or the muddle -- of the Angevine Report's recommendations.

It was at those times that I would seek out Steve at DU to discuss wages, salary, and benefits for our long-time house man and other issues for which there were no courses offered in the Williams curriculum. Again, it was Steve who served as mentor to me through all of that hectic time. At meetings of all the fraternity presidents, Steve was again the E.F. Hutton guy. If we followed Steve's advice and ideas, then we fared pretty well....

After college, Steve went into the Navy, received his MAT at Wesleyan, and did some teaching. He also married Polly, a very intelligent move. I went into teaching right away, and I received my MALS degree at Wesleyan, but, alas, Steve's and my paths did not cross at Wesleyan in the 1960s.

However, in the 1970s, I went to work in the Graduate Liberal Studies program at Wesleyan, and one of my assignments was to host a weekend symposium on liberal learning. I caught up with Steve who was then working at Brown University, told him what I was trying to do, and he signed on right away for the event. Trust me, his intelligence, professionalism, and humor were the hit of that weekend.  

Many of you know what follows from the time of our 25th Reunion. Steve was hired in the mid-1980s as a Major Gifts Officer at Williams, and I was hired in 1987 as Director of Annual Giving. We both worked in Mears House, the old Theta Delt fraternity on Park Street across from Sage and Williams. What I remember most was the fact that the first phone call I received, after my appointment at Williams was anounced, was from Steve. He welcomed me with the Birrell Enthusiasm that was a hallmark of his life.

To say that working together in development at Williams with Steve during the College's Bicentennial was a joy is quite an understatement. Most weekdays, Steve and I would skip lunch, go to the Chandler Gym, get into running attire, and go jogging for three miles. All I can say is that one gets to know a person in a unique way by spending that kind of time together 1:1. I am not certain that we solved ALL of the problems of the College or the world, but we certainly tried. More than that, Steve remained a "same-age mentor" to me re all aspects of development. 

I would be remiss if I did not mention Frances' and my delight in doing things with Steve and Polly during the eight years we lived in Williamstown full time. With two daughters of our own, we enjoyed getting to know Becky, Stephanie, and Katie while they were growing up in Williamstown, during their college years, and after their joyous weddings. To say that Polly and Steve became extraordinary grandparents should be obvious.

Since 1994, Frances and I have come back to Williamstown every summer. Polly and Steve always rolled out the red carpet -- especially with their pool for us and our three grandchildren. Our daughters and grand daughters saw Steve as the quintessential dad and granddad. In other words, if one called Hollywood for that perfect dad or granddad, Hollywood would send Steve Birrell.

I could go on and on about Steve and his qualities that made our friendship so remarkable. Let me just try to finish this remembrance by separating Steve from most other folks. I think many of us in the United States, my- self included, have become preoccupied with spread sheets, focus groups, workshops, white boards, rankings, and all that kind of thing. We have divided ourselves into charts and graphs as we try to explain everything.

STEVE BIRRELL NEVER DID THAT. A young writer for the College penned a piece about Steve's 25 years at Williams as Steve got ready to retire. In that article, the author kept referring to Steve's estimable qualities by piling on all kinds of fundraising data and large sums of money. On two different occasions surrounding Steve's retirement, I spoke against that article's using numbers and estimates to describe and define Steve and his work.

What defined Steve Birrell all of his life were his inestimable qualities: friendship, humor, kindness, helpfulness, prescience, spirit, and love. Steve always went beyond measure to see the best in everyone and to make the best of each and every situation in life. What a magnificient person and friend Steve was!

Peter Buttenheim '64

63 Lee Terrace, Williamstown, MA 01267










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