Shady Side Academy President Bart Griffith sent the following message to the SSA community on Wednesday, Dec. 22:
Dear Shady Side Academy Community,
It is with great sadness that I share the news that faculty emeritus, past parent, and former trustee William "Bill" Diehl, who taught science at Shady Side Academy Senior School from 1971 to 2011, passed away last weekend at the age of 77. Bill and his wife, Barbara, are the parents of two SSA alums, Sarah '93 and Nathan '95.
Respected by faculty and administration and beloved by students, Bill was vibrant and funny, exercising the judgment and wisdom of a master teacher. For many at SSA, watching Bill teach science, coach, or give counsel was pure joy. His instincts about how to engage and care for students were uncanny, his even-keeled disposition putting students at ease and effortlessly drawing them in. As one of his former advanced biology students, I count Bill as a part of that select group of teachers in my life who were born to do this work.
In recognition of his considerable gift for teaching, Bill was named Faculty Emeritus in 2018, the Academy's highest honor for faculty, and he also served a five-year term at SSA as the Howard Heinz Chair for the Sciences. He received the Posner Award for Meritorious Faculty Performance in 2006, when a nominating student called him a "wonderful advisor, the reason I have accomplished so much at Shady Side, and a humble gentleman and scholar."
Bill taught physics, biology, advanced biology, and chemistry with great passion and curiosity. A true Renaissance man, he also pursued interests in a range of fields, even teaching the Nature Writing elective for a term. Once, in fact, after telling him I had decided to major in English in college, the two of us enjoyed a lunch conversation about Shakespeare's King Lear that was as engaging as any I enjoyed in a college seminar. On the spot, Bill recalled even a few of his favorite lines from the play. Wait, "Bio Bill" knows Shakespeare? It all made a big impression on me.
A military veteran and excellent youth baseball player, Bill coached a range of sports at Shady Side, including football, baseball, soccer, and tennis. He of course had a firm grasp of the Xs and Os, but his teams largely remember him as an expert at knowing and motivating kids. And as with everything Bill did, he brought to athletics an important sense of balance and equanimity.
Bill once remarked in a 2011 Shady Side News interview, "My favorite aspect of Shady Side is the fact that you get to know kids in very different ways – from clubs, on the athletic fields, and performing on the stage. This can be helpful for teaching because you don't only reach kids in the classroom."
Bill also served as the Senior School's Dean of Students when the Academy went coed in 1973, leading SSA through one of the most dynamic transitions in its history.
"Many were hesitant about co-education because the school had been all male for the past 90 years or so," Bill remembered. "It was a big jump, and the alumni wanted to think long and hard about the decision. The school was a lot smaller then, about 350 students, and I felt I knew most of them. I had a hot chocolate and beverage machine in my office, and the kids would come in to chat about things."
Above all, Bill had a terrific sense of humor. He often laughed telling a story about the time, as Dean of Students, his plot to protect the campus against some student mischief was hilariously thwarted. "I knew the students were going to put something on the roof of the gym as a prank, so I thought I would surprise them [by lying in wait] and catching them. But I fell asleep, and when I woke up there were already signs and Mickey Mouse ears all over the roof. So my plan was foiled!"
On top of everything else, Bill was a dear friend to his faculty colleagues, who celebrate him for his affable, generous spirit and calm, steady demeanor:
"Bill was one of our good-hearted, good-souled, open and friendly teachers who brought kindness and skill to Shady Side. No one was more easy going; purity of heart and purpose define him." – Buddy Hendershot, Retired Faculty
"He had a joy for life and a curiosity to learn that made him an excellent mentor to numerous new SSA faculty. Bill's positive attitude, common sense approach to issues, and humor were character traits that I admired. I will miss my dear friend." – Mary Krauland, Retired Faculty
"Bill never said 'no' when asked to do something to help students or the school. All who came across him knew an outstanding person and friend." – Harry Fleishman, Faculty Emeritus
"He had an amazing talent for putting people at ease immediately and made it comfortable to talk to him about any subject. Watching and listening to his interactions with people taught me so much: how to listen to someone without judgment, how to make sure the person's voice was heard, how to offer his own opinion in a way that didn't 'step on toes.'" – Joe Felder, Retired Faculty
"Bill was THERE for everyone, especially when someone needed a wise, caring, compassionate person to listen and give grounded, measured advice. Bill's perspective considered all sides of an issue, and when you took his advice, you felt you were doing the best you could for all concerned." - Dan Brill, Senior School Faculty
Upon Bill's passing, I am heartened by the words of Lewis Thomas, famed author of The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher and the scientist-teacher who explained the miracles of biology to the masses: "We all leave traces of ourselves wherever we go, on whatever we touch."
Rest in peace, Mr. Diehl. All of us are grateful for the deep traces you have left on all you have touched at Shady Side.
Bart Griffith '93
The obituary and details about services will be posted here as soon as it becomes available.