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Remembering Bill Lilley

Bill Lilley was a charter member of the Advisory Council for the Bill Lane Center for the American West. Over his 13 years of service, he was unfailingly among the most committed, generous, and creative contributors to the Council’s work and the Center’s mission.

From left to right, Hope Eccles, Eve Lilley, and Bill Lilley

Though a life-long Easterner, “the West ran through his veins” as our colleague Bob Ducommun puts it. Bill’s interest in the West dated from his graduate school days at Yale, where he wrote a prize-winning dissertation on the career of Francis G. Newlands, the Nevada Representative and Senator who was the chief sponsor of the Reclamation Act of 1902, which did so much to transform the western region. The Lane Center takes special pride in having facilitated Bill’s sequel to his dissertation, The System of the River (June 2019), a richly detailed analysis of the political and policy maneuverings that culminated in the Reclamation Act. 

In gratitude for Bill’s dedication to the Bill Lane Center and in recognition of his contributions to western history, we are pleased to announce the creation of the William Lilley Memorial Fund. It will stand as an enduring tribute to his service and his scholarship, instilling his love of the region for generations to come. 

 

William Lilley III

1938-2021

 

Bill Lilley

 

William Lilley III passed away at his home in Washington, DC, on July 19, 2021. His passing was peaceful, with his beloved family, his dogs, and his books by his side. The cause of death was complications from pneumonia. 

Bill Lilley was a Philadelphia man to his core. Born there on January 14, 1938, he was raised in Merion, PA, where he attended Episcopal Academy, and along with friend-for-life Walter Buckley, anchored the football team. From there, he enrolled at Williams College and later graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1959. 

Bill Lilley then enrolled in Yale University’s School of Graduate Studies. There, he received his PhD in American Studies and devoted much of the 1960s to teaching American history to Yale undergraduates. His experiences and friendships at Yale became a defining feature of his life. With his first wife, Beverly Knight (now Beverly Sullivan), Lilley had four children: Buck, Brooke, Whitman, and Justin.

Lilley’s love for American history drew him to Washington, DC, where he re-located his family and his passion for the Phillies and the Eagles. He and others founded the National Journal, a publication on politics and public policy. Lilley later helped bring close friend and former student, John Fox Sullivan, to the National Journal, who as Publisher secured the publication’s role as one of DC’s most important media outlets. From there, the Nixon Administration promoted Lilley through a series of positions at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Ford White House then appointed him to run its Council on Wage & Price Stability at a time when the consumer price index hovered around 15%. Lilley wryly noted on many occasions, “I clearly did not succeed.” 

He then married the love of his life, Eve Auchincloss, in 1977, as he was transitioning to the private sector. Lilley first worked for American Express, and then became head of corporate affairs for CBS. Lilley helped lead the broadcast network through rocky waters: the competitive rise of cable television in the mid-1980s; Sen. Jesse Helms’ effort to stage a shareholder coup; and Ted Turner’s attempt to buy the company. Variety Magazine heralded his departure from CBS in August 1986 with the cheeky headline: “They’re Not Gilding the Lilley at CBS.” Bill Lilley had a knack for witty self-deprecation, so he kept a framed copy of that headline by his office desk.

Lilley then became an information technology entrepreneur, co-founding iMapData with Larry DeFranco. The company was formed amidst the explosion in digital technologies. Lilley and DeFranco assembled millions of private and public data sets and rendered them visually for more acute analysis. It seems obvious today, but it wasn’t in the late 1980s.

After more than two decades of commercial success, Lilley and DeFranco ultimately sold iMapData. But Bill Lilley never retired in full. He returned to his love of history and books by becoming a frequent contributor to The Reader’s Exchange, a quarterly book review. He also authored a sequel to his award-winning PhD thesis. In 2020, with the help of friend and Professor David Kennedy, Stanford University’s Bill Lane Center for the American West published Lilley’s book Francis Newlands and the Improbable Quest to Irrigate the West. Like Newlands himself, Lilley was a Yale man from the east coast who grasped the American West’s crucial place in history. 

Lilley is survived by his beautiful wife, Eve, of 44 years. They led a blessed and full life of travel and culture, most notably their moments together in Italy, Northeast Harbor, Maine, and at The Washington Ballet. She loved and supported him to the very end. He is also survived by his four children who love Eve as the second mother she’s always been. Bill Lilley is also survived by his younger brother, Weaver Lilley, his younger sister, Vicky Lilley, and his 10 adoring grandchildren. His sister, Phoebe Broderick, pre-deceased him.

Bill Lilley was a man in full, not because he achieved unbroken success, though there was much of that. Rather, his life was complete with success and setbacks, love and loss, dreams and fears. He was a full and worthy husband, father, grandfather, uncle, friend, and colleague. 

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Bill Lilley’s memorial service will take place on Saturday, September 25, 2021, at 1:00 PM, at St. Albans Church, located at 3001 Wisconsin Ave., NW, Washington, DC, 20016.

 

In lieu of flowers, please consider celebrating his life with donations to either:

 

Stanford University’s Bill Lane Center for the American West

Online: https://west.stanford.edu/about/support

By Mail: Development Services, PO Box 20466, Stanford, CA, 94309

By Phone: 866-543-0243

or

Episcopal Academy’s Lilley Fellowship Fund

Online: https://forms.diamondmindinc.com/episcopalacademy/giving2019?token=770122244

By Mail: The Lilley Fellowship Fund, c/o Jen Fifer, Episcopal Academy, 1785 Bishop White Dr., Newtown Square, PA, 19073

By Phone: 484-424-1785

 

In either case, please be sure to note with your donation that it is made in memory of Bill Lilley.