In memoriam: William Swindells, 1930–2018

by University Communications,

Willamette University Life Trustee William “Bill” Swindells passed away on Nov. 7 at the age of 88. 

Bill served as a Willamette University trustee from 1971 until 2001 when he became a life trustee. As chair of the board from 1987 to 1995, he oversaw the successful sesquicentennial campaign, which exceeded its $50-million goal by $12 million. He had also served as co-chair of the task force for Willamette’s capital campaign during the early 1980s. 

“He was a generous supporter of the university, bestowing major gifts to the Mary Stuart Rogers Music Center, the Swindells Crew Program and the Sparks Center remodel,” said President Steve Thorsett. “In 1977, Bill and his family established the Irene Gerlinger Swindells Fund which supported scholarships to undergraduates with interests in music. The fund also supports an endowed chair, the Irene Gerlinger Swindells Eminent Scholar in Music.”

Bill majored in engineering at Stanford University, earning his BS in 1953. He joined Willamette Valley Lumber Company, which was established by his grandfather in 1905 and later developed into the lumber giant Willamette Industries. At its peak in the 1990s, Willamette Industries owned or managed 1.7 million acres of timberland and operated more than 100 wood products manufacturing facilities in 23 states and in Ireland, France and Mexico. Bill served the company in many capacities including: senior vice president of marketing and building, executive vice president, president of the forest products division, president, CEO, and chairman of the board (1984–2002).

Active in the community, Bill served on the boards of OHSU, Oregon Public Affairs Network, Stand Insurance Company, Oregon Steel Mills, Airborne Freight Corp., Oregon Public Broadcasting, Oregon Historical Society, Oregon Symphony Association, Medical Research Association, and the Oregon Community Foundation, a foundation established by his father. He was one of Oregon’s most influential business and community leaders and supported cultural, environmental, and educational organizations throughout Oregon, primarily through the Ann and Bill Swindells Charitable Trust. 

Although he was not an alumnus, Willamette embraced him as one of its own, bestowing the honorary doctor of humane letters for his leadership and contributions to civic life in Oregon. His nearly 50-year involvement with Willamette helped shape its beautiful campus, attract and support outstanding faculty, enrich student life, and open the doors to higher education to students who could not otherwise afford to attend. 

“As we reflect with gratitude on his life and contributions,” Thorsett said, ”our thoughts today are with his family and many friends,”

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