By Roy Andersen, Timme Professor of Economics
The opening day of classes in 1989, Bill Pillsbury saw me on campus and said that this was going to be his last year of teaching. I was a bit taken back. Granted that he was beyond normal retirement age and had taught at Knox since 1949, but he was intellectually vital and still enjoyed teaching. He then told me the reason: a first-year student had just told him that he would be taking his class because his grandfather had taken Bill's class and wanted him to take a "Pillsbury class." Time to go.
I first met Bill in 1972 when I was interviewing for a teaching post at Knox. My wife, Corine, fully seven months pregnant, was with me. She was going to hang around campus most of the day while I was interviewed. Bill would not hear of it. Instead, Corine was hosted by the Pillsbury family in their house.
Over the decades, I saw hundreds of thoughtful acts like this on a regular basis.
Bill was a very popular teacher. Thousands of Knox students got their first taste of accounting under his tutelage. It was his custom to pass out candy before exams: he told them that it was "brain food." And he was a demanding teacher. If the class did poorly on an exam, you would hear in his soft-spoken and kind manner, "Well folks, I'm really disappointed." I used to counsel my advisees not to be fooled by his nurturing when it came to tests: they were difficult.
Bill's big scholarly mark was the introduction of computers as an important part of learning accounting. Several hundred schools adopted his text. One time, as a consequence of his national leadership in the field, he gave a workshop with two Ivy League professors under United Nations auspices in Mexico City. When he came back, I asked what memorable moments he had. One of them was that the other two professors were stunned that Bill was grading bluebooks during the flight: scholar to be sure; but always the teacher.
Bill was a model citizen for the College and the wider community. He served as dean of students, chaired the economics department, and served on many, many committees. As with his classroom work, he was always kind, thoughtful, and well prepared.
Bill was a deeply religious man. For many years, he served in leadership positions at Galesburg's Central Congregational Church. He also was a long-time active member of Rotary and other civic organizations.
Unfailingly, Bill was there for those in need or who had family members in need. There were many trips to hospitals and nursing homes, many small gifts to cheer people up.
The world would be a better place if we had more like Bill.
Alumni Memories of Professor Pillsbury
"I can truly say that [Dr. Pillsbury] helped to change my life for the better. For that, I am truly grateful."
-George Matthes '58
"Dr. Pillsbury was instrumental in ‘coaching' me through four years at Knox .... He certainly had a key role in making Knox the fine school that it was when I attended, and the great College that it is today."
-Roger Pearson '63
"Dr. Pillsbury was my friend and mentor at Knox. He made accounting classes interesting and fun, which is not an easy task .... I am sure he is busy bringing financial order to his new kingdom!"
-Sarah Kaull '77
"Professor Pillbury's dedication and unwavering commitment to the development of his students epitomizes the Knox spirit. Without him, and many other professors like him, Knox would be another good liberal arts college, but with them, it is a special place that changes lives."
-John Lawler '88
"Wilbur Pillsbury was a great professor and a tremendous person. I will always have fond memories of my time with him at Knox."
-Wendi Brener Gillespie '92