William P. Densmore '45, a former member of the WPI Board of Trustees and former executive director of the Colleges of Worcester Consortium, died Jan. 19, 2013, at the age of 88.
"Bill Densmore was an intellectual with a deep civic commitment who had a wonderful common touch," WPI President Dennis Berkey said. "As an emeritus trustee throughout my first eight years at WPI, he frequently sent comments to me on my writings, communications to the board, or work in the community and in the larger higher education arena. Always thoughtful and supportive, he nonetheless conveyed important critiques and analyses, succinctly and compellingly. His commitment and achievements on behalf of education at all levels were a model of engaged leadership by a true gentleman."
Born in Brookline, Mass., the son of a mechanical engineer, Densmore graduated from The Putney School in Vermont (where he later served as a trustee) and enrolled at WPI, earning a BS in mechanical engineering as World War II was drawing to a close. Commissioned as a lieutenant (j.g.) in the Naval Reserve, he served as a fire control officer on the first USS Enterprise aircraft carrier. He was discharged as an ensign in 1946 and began his civilian career at Norton Company (now Saint-Gobain Abrasives), where he eventually became a corporate vice president, a senior vice president, and a member of the executive committee before taking early retirement in 1982.
"Once he retired, the real work began," the Worcester Telegram & Gazette noted in a story about his passing. After leaving Norton, Densmore continued—with considerable passion—his involvement in public service, which he had started in the 1960s. He cofounded the Worcester-based Center for Nonviolent Solutions, helped found Worcester-based Better Endings to encourage compassionate end-of-life care, and was a former director of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts and the Greater Worcester Community Foundation. In all, he helped found or served on the boards of over 25 educational, health, and community organizations.
Through the years, education was one of his particular interests. From 1970 to 1977, he served on the Massachusetts Board of Education. Later, he helped write the Massachusetts Business Alliance report "Every Child a Winner" that provided key recommendations for the 1993 Massachusetts education reform act, which would help the state's public schools become some of the best in the nation.
Densmore served as a WPI trustee from 1989 to 1995. An early and enthusiastic supporter of the WPI Plan, he served as the Norton Company liaison for the WPI-Norton Project Center and as chair of the Norton Company Corporate Contacts Program. After being elected a trustee emeritus, he served on the Management Board of Advisors and was a member of the President's Advisory Council. He also assisted with the founding of WPI's Worcester Community Project Center.
Densmore's engagement with higher education also included a period as executive director of the Worcester Consortium for Higher Education (now known as the Colleges of Worcester Consortium) and teaching management courses part time at Clark University and the College of the Holy Cross for many years.
He also worked with many health-related organizations in the area. He was chairman of the board of the Worcester Area Systems for Affordable Health Care and was a member of the University of Massachusetts Medical Center Hospital management board and the Central Massachusetts Health Systems Agency board.
Densmore was recognized many times for his service. He received the Herbert F. Taylor Alumni Award for Distinguished Service from the WPI Alumni Association in 1990 and, in 1976, the Albert W. Schwieger Award from WPI's School of Industrial Management, from which he graduated in 1957. In 1997 he received the prestigious Isaiah Thomas Award for Distinguished Community Service from the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, and was honored by the Worcester Public Schools Administration Association, the Worcester Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Alliance for Education, among other organizations.
In 2011, speaking at The Way of Nonviolence recognition luncheon at Clark University, Densmore recalled how he learned the value and effectiveness of nonviolent solutions while a manager at Norton. "You don’t get anywhere by yelling at people," he said. "And the old concept of the manager who orders everybody around and doesn’t listen to anybody else just doesn’t work."
At the same event, U.S. Representative James P. McGovern (D-Mass.) praised Densmore's "warm heart" and "spine of steel" when it came to fighting for causes that were important to him.
Densmore leaves Martha, his wife of 64 years, three children, and four grandchildren. A memorial service will take place at 11 a.m. on Feb. 2 in First Unitarian Church, 90 Main Street, in Worcester. The family has requested that Densmore's legacy be acknowledged through gifts to the Center for Nonviolent Solutions, participation in the Rules Change Summit, or other acts of civic engagement.