William Hardy Heaney

April 10, 1945 - November 25, 2020
Thursday, December 10, 2020
William Hardy Heaney

William Hardy Heaney—an anthropologist, fisherman, and photographer who always wanted “just one more” photo of his family, “just one more” book, “just one more” cast in a river’s fading light—died Wednesday, November 25th, in Billings, Montana. Bill, as family and friends knew him, bravely fought COVID-19 for four weeks before he succumbed. He was 75.

Born April 10th, 1945 in Washington, D.C., Bill grew up in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. He will be interred there, joining his parents Samuel and Susan Heaney, and brother Curtis Heaney, who all preceded him in death. He is survived by Vivian Gallagher Heaney, his wife of twenty-seven years, and their son Douglas; his son Christopher Heaney, daughter-in-law Hannah Carney, and grandchildren Curtis and Jack; his daughter Jessica Heaney; and his former spouse Brigid O’Brien, mother of Christopher, Jessica, and Nicholas, Bill’s second son, who also preceded him in death.

Bill’s friends remember him as a man with “insatiable curiosity and a boundless heart,” who was interested in everything and talked to everyone—at length. His family remembers him as a caring husband, loving father, and delighted grandfather, who took them on the outdoor adventures he loved so much.

Bill spent his life in motion, but his wide-ranging mind was never far from the Wisconsin of his childhood. He cherished memories of time spent on its water with family and friends. He supported Oshkosh’s institutions, facilitating a 2003 illustrated history of the city, on the occasion of its 150th anniversary.

His travels began early. Bill graduated high school from the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut in 1963. He continued his studies at Amherst College, from which he graduated in 1968. After college, Bill taught reading in New York City schools, driving a taxi on the weekends. He earned a PhD in anthropology from Columbia University’s Teacher’s College, which took him to the South West Pacific. Between researching migration and economic opportunity in the Wahgi Valley of Papua New Guinea, he made himself useful. When one of his Omngar hosts was killed in a road accident, Bill assisted in the rescue of his minman, his soul, so that it would not wander aimlessly.

He made a family of his own. In 1981, after teaching at the University of Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby, Bill returned to the United States. He worked in finance and non-profit administration, earning an MBA from Yale University’s School of Management. After several years as the administrator of Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, he taught classes in anthropology at Columbia and the University of Wisconsin in Oshkosh. In Ridgewood, New Jersey he raised Christopher, Jessica, and Douglas. When he lost his brother to HIV/AIDS in 1991, he established a fund at Yale in Curt’s name, to support research into the global treatment of that pandemic.

With Vivian, his explorations never ceased. Together, after Ridgewood, they have lived in Oshkosh; Waimea, Hawaii; and Big Timber, where he served on the vestry of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. He and Vivian traveled widely, with Bill trying to flyfish in whatever state or country they were in. A true Renaissance man, Bill patented a device to stop wind from carrying away his fishing line.

Bill’s sudden loss leaves a hole in the lives of his family, who looked forward to many more meals, holidays, and adventures together. If they could, they would laugh with him just one more time.

No funeral service has been planned at this time. Condolences, and inquiries regarding contributions in his memory, may be sent to Memorial.Heaney@gmail.com. His family will have a party to celebrate him when it is safe.