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Life Entomologist Bill Friend was a gifted teacher who never took himself too seriously

William Friend.

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William (Bill) Friend: Entomologist. Carver. Lifelong learner. Mentor. Born July 25, 1928, in Ottawa; died Dec. 16, 2018, in Vancouver, from complications after a fall; aged 90.

Bill was a curious scientist from an early age. His childhood days were spent on the edge of the Ottawa River, where he collected bugs and reptiles, watched the seasons change and nurtured his imagination.

Bill earned his PhD in entomology at Cornell and started his career as a staff scientist at Agriculture Canada. He soon switched to what would be a rewarding academic career at the University of Toronto. He was delighted to be paid to do what he loved: “Money for jam,” as he’d say. Among other things, his research had an impact on the nature of the spread of dengue fever and malaria through mosquitoes.

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Bill loved to teach and mentor both undergraduate and graduate students. He continually challenged them to use their creativity to solve problems but first would initiate each one by making them clean the “mosquito morgue” – a beaker filled with car oil and thousands of dead bugs! Bill received numerous grants and awards, published hundreds of papers and transformed students’ lives. He was named a Fellow of the Entomological Society of Canada to acknowledge his excellent body of work.

Bill was devoted to his wife Shirley of 62 years. Shirley was a professional dietitian and a much-loved home economics teacher. Shirley helped Bill in his research, steadfastly accompanying him to mosquito-infested swamps in exotic locales. They had no children or siblings. This fuelled Bill’s need to create a tribe, and he was a true elder, regularly “adopting” people, nurturing and mentoring them. Upon retirement, Bill and Shirley moved from Toronto to North Vancouver and began collecting new members of their tribe. They travelled extensively and enjoyed sailing. On the West Coast they bought 22-foot sailboat that they raced between Vancouver and Vancouver Island, and although they often came in close to last, their enthusiasm was undiminished.

Bill found joy in the present but always looked ahead, adapting and reinventing himself to keep current. In his 90th year, he bought an iWatch, just to figure out how it worked. He got a real kick out of using it and other gadgets to keep in touch with his tribe.

Bill was exceptionally talented with his hands. He could separate the intricate mouth parts of a mosquito and later applied the same dexterity to carving intricate First Nations-inspired masks and bowls. He thrived on teaching others everything from career planning to making carving tools, and more. Bill was also an avid musician, playing flute and ukulele well into his 80s. A board member with the local Canadian Hard of Hearing Association, he regularly helped out at workshops in a seniors’ centre.

Bill didn’t take himself too seriously, often sporting Hawaiian shirts when entertaining, flowery ascots, Tilley hats or pragmatic multipocketed safari vests. Bill will always be remembered for his warm smile, his genuine and often-expressed love of his tribe and commitment to helping others. He spent a lifetime pursuing opportunities that would make a positive impact. He was as interested as he was interesting and amassed close friends across generations with an outlook that belied his age.

Meg Beckel, Linda Corry, Katherine Harman, Marni Johnson, Loralyn Mears, Colleen Noyes-Reynolds, Robin Rivers and Bernie Roitberg are all Bill’s “adoptees.”

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Lives Lived celebrates the everyday, extraordinary, unheralded lives of Canadians who have recently passed. To learn how to share the story of a family member or friend, go to tgam.ca/livesguide

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