Department of Geography marks the passing of our long-time faculty colleague and former chair, William "Bill" Beyers

Submitted by Nell Gross on
Bill Beyers

With a great deal of sadness, the Department of Geography marks the passing of our long-time faculty colleague and former chair, William Bjorn “Bill” Beyers, in early February. 

Bill was born in Seattle on March 24, 1940. He attended schools in West Seattle, including an elementary school that was flattened in the April 1949 Seattle earthquake (9-year-old Bill was thrilled to learn that school would be cancelled for at least a week). He was an alum of UW Department of Geography’s undergraduate and graduate programs (B.A. 1958, Ph.D. 1967), and worked his entire career in this department. He retired in 2010 but continued to teach part-time for another 5 years, and remained active in research and public service throughout the rest of his life. Over 52 years as a member of our department, Bill served as the departmental cartographer, a teaching assistant, a research assistant, a faculty member, and two terms as chair. His first publication, with his doctoral advisor Morgan Thomas, appeared in the Annals of the Association of American Geographers in 1965. An economic- and urban geographer and regional scientist, Bill helped develop Seattle’s first “input-output model,” a statistical technique for modeling the inter-dependency of different economic sectors in a region. Over his career, Bill created countless similar models for the State of Washington, finishing his most recent update in 2021. Governor Jay Inslee recognized this accomplishment in a commendation letter, stating “It is a tribute to your foresight and engagement that Washington is one of the only states in the country with a unique version of this tool using state-specific data… I applaud your important contributions, your technical skill and diligence, and your dedication as a public servant.”

As a researcher and educator, Bill lived out his firm conviction that the highest responsibility of a university is public service. This fundamental thread connects all members of the geography department across many generations, and is the facet of our collective identity of which we are most proud. Bill taught thousands of UW undergraduates, typically in very early morning, including his popular Geographies of the Pacific Northwest course that he taught for over 50 years. He supervised countless M.A. and Ph.D. degrees, and remained active in doctoral supervisory committees long after his retirement, including a Ph.D. defense last June. For more on Bill’s research, teaching, and public scholarship, we invite you to visit the following news stories:

Bill was a character in every sense of the word. He loved his wife, their dogs and cats, their garden, this department, the UW, and every square inch of this beautiful place we call home. His hiking adventures with Dick Morrill and generations of faculty and grad students were the stuff of legend, as was his penchant for jogging to campus from his home in West Seattle and then taking the bus back home. Current chair Sarah Elwood recalls visiting the department as a prospective graduate student in the early 1990s and meeting Bill at that time during his first term as chair. Years later, when she visited as a candidate for an assistant professor position, Bill was once again the chair. As they wrapped up the interview exit meeting, Bill said, “You’re an urban geographer! Want to take the bus to the airport?” He proceeded to print and annotate all the necessary bus schedules, dug $1.85 in change out of his pockets, and pointed her in the direction of the bus stop. He was a good neighbor in every sense of the word, sharing plants, tools, home repair advice, bushels of homegrown fruits and vegetables, and countless route suggestions for bicycling to the UW and elsewhere.

Bill’s life was fully and meaningfully lived. For that, all of us in the department, at the University, and across generations of UW alums feel a deep gratitude.