Sunday, January 16, 2011


Yesterday's newspaper brought very sad news. Bill Patton, the longtime Executive Director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival died last week. He was one of the finest people I have ever had the privilege of knowing.

We lived in Ashland, Oregon, the home of the Shakespeare Festival, from 1979 to 1993. Shortly after we moved to Ashland I went to work at the Festival as the manager of the Gift Shop, called The Tudor Guild Gift Shop. It was run, not by the Festival, itself, but by an auxiliary organization, the Tudor Guild, with the sole purpose of offering appropriate merchandise for sale, with the proceeds going to support the non-profit theater. The shop was small and struggling when I became its manager, but we had a great group of volunteers and several paid staff members in addition to myself and we had ambitious plans for expansion and new, more interesting merchandise. Bill Patton was not my boss, but he, naturally, took a keen interest in the shop, which was located on one side of the large courtyard, across from the three theaters. He welcomed me warmly and made a practice of dropping by the shop frequently, as his office was upstairs in the same building. He was a quiet and very gentle man and always had a smile and an encouraging word as he strolled through the shop, stopping to handle a book, chuckle over a silly T-shirt or ask about something new, often murmuring to himself, "nice, nice—oh this is very nice." His approval meant so much to me.

I soon learned that OSF, as it is referred to, was, thanks to Bill's excellent leadership, one of the most fiscally successful and responsible non-profit theaters in the country, along with being highly respected artistically. I also observed how much his staff admired him and genuinely liked him. Like me, they all worked hard to make him happy. I rarely saw him dressed as you see above. His everyday uniform was a Pendleton shirt and corduroy pants. Out the windows of the gift shop I often saw him greeting tourists in the courtyard, as he made his way to one meeting or another. The year the gift shop was able to present the festival with a check for a half million dollars I got a lovely note from him, thanking me for my hard work and vision for the shop. The first year a Tony Award was given to a regional theater it went to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Bill was so proud. He accepted the award in New York City at the Awards Ceremony and attended the gala parties afterward, but was back in the courtyard in his corduroys the following Monday.

OSF employs hundreds of people—actors, stagehands, musicians, house managers, carpenters, costumers, etc. I think he knew the names of each one. Each one held him in the highest regard. I have never known a man more universally loved and respected. Bill had come to the Festival as a young man and worked in every capacity, including acting. He was part of its earliest years, along with founder, Angus Bowmer, and he led the company to its greatest successes. He seemed to love every minute. I haven't seen Bill for almost 20 years, but reading of his passing brought tears. I'm a better person for having known him.

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
The Tempest Act 4, scene 1, 148–158


  1. What a beautiful tribute to both the man and the institution.

  2. It is heartbreaking to read that someone so beautiful and gentle and kind that meant a lot to you, has died. You are lucky to have known and had such a connection with him - he obviously enriched your life. I understand the tears - and I am sorry, Terry. Life is full of gifts - and then losses. So we need to feel the joy in those gifts - and Bill was surely one of them.

  3. What a gift he was to you, and what a gift you gave in remembering him. If he is half the man I imagined him to be from your tribute, then this is what he would have wanted to take from this world. To know his being here made such a wonderful impact.

  4. wonderful post. My only wish is when leaving this life that I have had a positive impact on my little world.


  5. I wasn't expecting to come across a theatre-related post while perusing so this definitely caught my eye. I'd love to make to Ashland someday for the festival, definitely one of the most prestigious and admired in the country. Thank you for taking the time to pay tribute to someone who had such a tremendous impact on the arts in America.

  6. Albert Pine said, “What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world remains and is immortal.”
    Surely Mr. Patton has gained immortality.

  7. That Tempest quote is just perfect, Terry.

  8. What a lovely tribute. I have been to Ashland and to that shop. The theatres, along with the surrounding park and shopping, are a very special spot.

  9. Beth P.8:03 AM

    Bill's daughter is a friend of mine. I shared this post with her and she has shared it with her family. They were touched. Thank you for such a lovely tribute to him.