In Memory of William Beale

Our friend, mentor, and benefactor William Beale died on Sunday, July 24th, 2016.  It was a great privilege to know William, and to be uplifted by his passionate commitment,  his indefatigable creativity, and his intelligent humor. William was the first recipient of the Arthur Morgan Award, and a frequent contributor to our website under the name wimbi. You can read his last blog post, Poppy’s Dream, as well as other posts including, Fracked to Death, The (Bigger) Garden of EdenWE GOT PLENTY OF NOTHIN', ROI: Love of Money, The Future Speaks, Plenty of Oil, So What's the Story Here?, and Wimbi's Wedges. William Beale also appeared in videos for the Community Solutions Climate Solutions Video channel, speaking about electric cars and his work.   We’ll be including a tribute to William in our October conference, and would be glad to share our members’ memories with his family. 

ATHENS - William Taylor Beale, 88, died peacefully at home Sunday 24 July 2016 attended by his immediate surviving family – wife Carol and children Faith, Dan and John – and loving friends.  A lifelong inventor and philosophizer, it was William’s driving ambition to leave the world a better place on the basis of sound engineering and innovative thought.  Although he claimed never to have achieved the full extent of his intentions, his inventions were essential components of products on Earth and in Space, his company and its spinouts employed hundreds, and his philanthropic funding enabled local, regional and global extension and continuation of his visions.

Born to Katherine and David Beale on 17 April 1928 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the third of five siblings and the eldest of the three brothers. Self-described as a youth who was a “loner, a dreamer, and an inventor of unusually warlike things,” William segued from homemade artisan-well-diving equipment and road-asphalt bombs to early employment as a Naval radar technician during the final year of World War II.  He discovered in this engagement “the bloody waste of war games,” an assessment that carried through his educational career.  After achieving an MS from Caltech, including engaging in the study of intercontinental ballistic missiles, he “resolved, deep in his muddled soul, never to use this knowledge for its original intended purpose.”  He adhered absolutely to these principles, including strong activism and support of disengagement in military conflict during the Vietnam War; and later in rejection of a potential weapons development contract that would have succored his struggling small business, but ran against his deepest convictions regarding the essential role of rational and peaceful engagement between nations.

While achieving his second MS from MIT in Boston in 1958, William met and married Harvard graduate Carol Brand Beale, with whom he moved to Athens, Ohio in 1961 as a faculty member in Ohio University’s engineering department.  With family support, the couple purchased an old farmhouse on 300 acres of rolling, rural Appalachian woodland.  William aided Carol’s tireless maintenance and development of gardens and multiple livestock while himself maintaining the underlying technology, including the well and roof-water systems, the many generations of VW bugs, rabbits and buses, the 200-year-old barn and other outbuildings, and continually remodeling and improving the 100-year-old farmhouse.  The couple dedicated themselves to a carbon-free existence, and for the final decade of his life William continued to maintain and improve their woodstove-fired, hot-water-circulation system as well as their all-solar electrical system (which powered, in addition to the homestead, their proudly-so-labeled ‘Runs on the Sun’ electric Leaf vehicle).

William was an early member and literal builder of Athens Unitarian Fellowship, which for decades served, and continues to serve, as a welcoming location for lectures, plays, thoughts, and communal sharing by generations of families like his own.  

William’s 1964 invention of the free-piston Stirling engine was the impetus for founding Sunpower, Inc., a company dedicated to the before-its-time principle that engineering innovation in renewable-energy-derived power is a world-saving opportunity.  In perennial search of financial support for Sunpower’s rich intellectual property and multiple technical innovations, William traveled frequently to Europe, Asia and the Indian subcontinent, gaining and incorporating lessons- learned from international experts and experience.  In his Athens home office, Sunpower attracted global expertise to a strong young technical team and expanded its influence, over three and a half decades of continuing R&D, into cooling and cryocooling as well as continued engine development, prior to the family’s sale of the business in 2012.  

The business exit enabled William’s distribution of philanthropic dollars to local groups engaged in carbon footprint reduction business and research and outreach; to regional non-profits dedicated to community development and environmental conservation; and to multiple individual technology start-ups.

William always delighted in the education and encouragement of the next generation.  He included among his many mentorships a Saturday Science Seminar for local youth, several of whom went on to join the current generation of young technology startup entrepreneurs.  Many of William’s mentees cite his marked influence on their own sense of innate curiosity about the mathematical, physical and mechanical principles at work in the world around them.  Many also remember William’s perennial ‘kid test:’ the Prisoner’s Dilemma, in which participants are given the opportunity to collaborate and ensure continued success for all, or to compete and destroy one another.  William’s instructional game was, for many mentees and young relatives, a formative moment in their own perception of the role of cooperation and conflict resolution as favored tools in a fraught social fabric.  

William’s ‘Fables for our Time,’ published in local newspapers and online with Community Solutions of Yellow Springs, Ohio, perennially reinforced his messages that straightforward engineering and high-minded conservation are the basic underlying principles of a visionary life well-led.  William was a voracious reader and participant in vigorous ongoing conversations with friends, family, associates and passersby on these and related topics.  His favorite publication, re-read during his last days, was E.O. Wilson’s “Half Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life,” a book incorporating many of William’s most passionate beliefs about the duties incumbent upon humans, as the greatest Earthly change factor, to preserve and protect the globe under their dominion. His most recent essays are accessible at http://www.visioningthefuture.org.

William is survived by his wife and three children and their spouses and partners, six grandchildren, two siblings Inez Harrell and David Beale and a broad local, regional and global network of family, friends and followers.  A public memorial service will be hosted by the Athens Friends Meeting in September. Contributions in William’s memory would be welcomed by organizations working on Carbon reduction goals such as Community Solutions of Yellow Springs, Ohio at http://www.communitysolution.org/ ,  Union of Concerned Scientists at www.uscusa.org,  and Rural Action of Athens, Ohio at http://ruralaction.org/ .