William A. Christmas ’61

William A. Christmas ’61 died on October 8, 2023, in Taos, New Mexico.

(The following was provided by Taos News in October 25, 2023:)

William A. Christmas ’61

Dr. William A. Christmas (“Bill”), beloved father, husband, grandfather, uncle, and friend, passed away peacefully at home in Taos, New Mexico the morning of Sunday, October 8, 2023. Known for his warmth, humor, and universal kindness, Bill opened his heart to everyone he met. He had a knack for finding a way to connect with people from all walks of life, initiating conversations, listening carefully, and sharing stories freely.

Bill was born in Montreal, Québec, to William R. and Marcelle A. Christmas. The family immigrated to West Springfield, MA, and subsequently to the greater Boston area, where Bill attended Rivers preparatory school.  He went on to attend Bowdoin College (BA 1961), Boston University Medical School (MD, 1965), and completed his internship at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore (1965-66) and his residency in Internal Medicine at the University of Vermont (1966-1968), where he was also an NIH Fellow in Infectious Diseases (1668-69).  In these years, Bill married Maribeth Hanson (1962), the sister of his life-long Bowdoin chum Peter Hanson, and started a family (son Jamie came along in 1965).  The highlight of Bill’s residency training was a two-month practicum taken at the Hospital Albert Schweitzer in Deschapelles, Haiti.  The hospital allowed Maribeth, a registered nurse, to serve on staff as well.  Their shared experiences caring for patients suffering from starvation and other maladies associated with living under a repressive dictatorship left a deep impression on both.

The family continued to grow as Bill began his career as a physician specializing in internal medicine.  Bill served for three years (1969-1972) on active duty in the U.S. Army, working at the U.S. Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Frederick, Maryland.  Daughters Ann (1968) and Gillian (1969) arrived just in time to move to Bennington, VT, where Bill began a private practice in internal medicine with several other doctors (1972-1977). Bill and his colleagues doggedly built up their practice to the point where they needed to expand to meet patient demand.

This proved a turning point for Bill with regard to both his career and his family (which was now even larger as son Ira joined the fray in 1974).  His children can remember waiting outside in the dark, long after dinner was over, hoping to glimpse the too-close-together headlights of his Jeep coming up the hill for home.  Although Bill had helped build a successful practice, and although he truly loved the clinical work with his patients, he and Maribeth made the decision to leave private practice for the more regular hours promised by a position in college health.  This proved not only a good move for family reasons, but also for Bill, as he thrived in this new context.  He apprenticed at University Health Services at the University of Rochester (1977-1981), eventually becoming Medical Director there.  This led to subsequent Director of Student Health positions at the University of Vermont (1982-1993) and Duke University (1994-2004).  Ever the consummate physician, Bill insisted upon maintaining a clinical role caring for students while also juggling the many administrative needs the job required.  Bill’s ascent to national prominence in the field of college health can be measured in many ways, but perhaps most poignantly in his receiving a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the American College Health Association (ACHA) in 2005, the year of his retirement.

Fortunately, Bill’s retirement proved to be anything but retiring. Having lost Maribeth to cancer in 2001 and having gone through many months of mourning her and the plans they had made together, Bill quietly used the internet to find and contact Polly Raye, a junior-high crush from his days in Waban, MA.  They were married in 2003 and Bill relocated to Taos. Thus began two decades of devotion to each other, their new blended family, and a growing stable of grandchildren (which would eventually number 10). Spending time with their extended family was a top priority, and they traveled together coast to coast to visit. In addition, they took adventurous trips abroad and when home, cherished their rich and gratifying friendships. Bill especially treasured Vermont “for its people and its trees.” Bill also traveled extensively as a consultant reviewing many student health programs for the ACHA and several volunteer health programs for the U.S. Peace Corps, the latter of which took him to exotic locales in the South Pacific and Africa.

With Polly, Bill enjoyed camping in their RV and cross-country skiing. He loved water, particularly swimming and canoeing, wood fires, baking yeasted breads, and singing (at Bowdoin he sang in both the Glee Club and Chapel Choir, and in later years, brought his beautiful deep bass voice to many a church choir). He was also a voracious and careful reader, especially of history.

For both friends and family alike, Bill will be greatly missed for his gregariousness, generosity, and unfailing sense of humor.  Bill is survived by his wife, Polly Raye of Taos; children Jamie Christmas (Maggie Miller) of Petaluma, CA; Ann Christmas (Harvey Finley) of Rougemont, NC; Jill Switken (Scot Switken) of Fort Lauderdale, FL; and Ira Christmas (Molly Hayes) of Durham, NC; stepchildren Wily Rahill (Cathy Rahill) of Burlington, VT; Will Rahill of Big Bear Lake, CA; Hannah Rahill (Robbert de Vries) of San Anselmo, CA; and his and Polly’s grandchildren: Eamon Christmas, Lanie Switken, Sky Rahill, Finn Rahill, Samuel Christmas, Clara Tunny, Dallas Rahill, Samantha Switken, Rose Tunny, and Indy Rahill.

3 Comments William A. Christmas ’61

  1. Kenneth R Sherman

    Bill was a good friend from our days at the Rivers school. He was what might called a completely authentic person. I treasure my relationship with him.

  2. Hugh

    This message is for Polly. I knew Bill as a health center director, actually I made him mad because I challenged the American college of association dues on by half of the Big Ten health centers. A few years later, we were at a meeting of research institutions and were both asked to go to a specific restaurant and save tables for the different factions. At that point we actually had a conversation. We came to find out that we were both born in Montreal, after a little more conversation found that we lived on the same street which was only five blocks long, went to the same grade school and were baptized and confirmed in the same church. Church. After that we became fast friends. When Bill and I were at a meeting and I want to say it was in San Diego but I’m not sure. I was just explaining to my girlfriend with a fabulous guy. Bill was and she said well. You should call him. And when we looked up and tried to contact Bill, we found out that he passed away last October. A very sad day for us, with the passing of an absolutely amazing man. Just wanted you to know he’s in my fond Thoughts forever

  3. Hugh

    Bill Christmas is an amazing man. We had our differences, especially when I represented the big 10 and Bill was president of ACHA. The big 10 sent me forward as their representative to reduce the cost of universities annual assessments. Because they decided that the direction of all of the programming at national meetings was for small universities, but the big universities were charging. The big bucks. Bill was not pleased. A couple of years later, we were in St. Louis at a different meeting and both of us were identified as the people that should go to the restaurant and secure the respective tables for our groups. He looked at me and I had him and we had a conversation. He said you have an accent, I said I don’t think so. He says where were you born? I said Montreal, he gives me too. Where did live? I said on the maclyne avenue and Snowden. He said you kidding me? I said no why? He said that’s the same street I lived on. The streets. Only five blocks long. We came to find out after a conversation we both lived on McCalyn went do the same grade school , got baptized in the same church. Had our confirmations. And then both moved to the United States about 4 years apart. Bill was probably 5 years old and then I was.


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