After service in the Army Air Corp in World War II, Bill attended the University of Tennessee on the GI Bill and continued his involvement in the labor movement. He subsequently became a member of the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers International Union, the Newspaper Guild, and AFL-CIO Local 3017. He served at numerous levels of union functions, as a Local union steward, council delegate, pension trustee, and local union president. For five years prior to the merger of the AFL-CIO he was a member of the CIO Southern Organizing Committee, working among other capacities as an organizer of non-union trucking companies (dangerous work in the South in the 1950s, especially since he often worked with African American trade unionists). After the merger of the AFL and the CIO he became a regional representative of the AFL-CIO, rising to become the Assistant National Director of the AFL-CIO Department of Organization and Field services. He left the AFL-CIO in 1985 and founded Union Consultant Service.
A supporter of the performing arts, while living in Knoxville Bill supported the Knoxville Symphony and the Knoxville Arts Center, among other activities. While living in the Washington, DC area, he financed the orchestra pit at the Olney Theatre Center and produced several plays. He was executive producer for the Center’s Potomac Theater Festival in 2002, and he established the tradition of having individuals sponsor productions. He also supported the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Arena Stage, and the Shakespeare Theatre.
Jim Petosa, artistic director of the Olney Theater, said that Bill had a profound belief in the need for a vibrant artistic culture. “He also believed that artists should have a reasonable quality of life,” Petosa said. “During the many years of the development of Olney Theatre Center, Bill was a trusted and generous counselor and a man who could always be trusted to provide clear insight and perspective on the most confounding challenges.”
Bill is survived by his wife, Lillian Roehl, of Silver Spring, Maryland.