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Memorials: University Friends Meeting

Bill Matchett

Date of birth

March 5, 1923

Date of death

June 21, 2021


University Friends Meeting

Memorial minute

William Henry Matchett was born March 5, 1923 in Chicago. He was a birthright Friend; both his parents were Quakers, as was his father's father. They were members of Chicago Friends Meeting.  

Bill graduated from Westtown School and Swarthmore College. His time at Swarthmore was interrupted by World War II, when he spent 3 years as a Conscientious Objector. He served in the Civilian Public Service camp in West Campton, New Hampshire, and then as a guinea pig in the Psycho-Acoustic Laboratory in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He graduated from Swarthmore in 1949, having majored in English Literature and minored in New Testament and Psychology.

Bill and Judith Wright were married in 1949. Judy was the daughter of Elizabeth Cox Wright, Bill's favorite English professor at Swarthmore. Judy and Bill moved to Cambridge for Bill to study for his PhD from Harvard University. He had a teaching assistantship in Archibald McLeish's poetry class. Bill transferred his membership to Cambridge Meeting and served on their Ministry and Counsel Committee.  Son David was born there in 1952.  Kathy and Stephen were both born in Seattle, Kathy in 1954 and Stephen in 1957. Stephen died of cancer in May 2020.

Bill and Judy moved to Seattle in 1954 for Bill to take up a position in the English Department at the University of Washington, where he taught for his entire career.  He published four books of poetry:  Water Ouzel and Other Poems, 1955; Fireweed and Other Poems, 1980; Elementary, 2004; and Airplants: Selected Poems, 2013.  He also wrote a textbook with Jerome Beatty: Poetry: from Statement to Meaning and a book of stories about the American Indians in the Southwest after being in Arizona in 1951. He was one of the founders of the Poets' Theater in Cambridge, spent nineteen years as editor of the Modern Language Quarterly, and edited the first years of Poetry Northwest with Carolyn Kizer. He also published widely on Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson.   

He took two sabbatical years during his tenure, one in Italy and one in England, at which time the whole family lived in London for a year. They moved into a house in London and got a VW bus so they could take family trips around England. Kathy and Stephen went to the local Comprehensive School (closest thing to high school) and David attended classes at University College of University of London. Bill and Judy took weekly Italian classes.

Bill was deeply involved in University Friends Meeting, as was Judy. He served as Clerk of the Meeting 1968-71 and again 1993-95. He served a three year term on Ministry and Counsel,  four terms on the Oversight (now Care & Counsel) Committee, two terms on Finance Committee (co-clerk one year), three years on Scholarship (clerk one year), and Statistical Clerk for many years.  In his last months he learned to attend Meeting for worship via Zoom, which was a big step for him, who had never even had an email account.

Bill was also active with the Regional American Friends Service Committee, starting in 1956. In the 60s he co-founded what was then called the Indian Committee, working on Native American rights, and served on the regional Executive Committee as well as the regional Gay Lesbian Program Committee when it was first established.  He also was involved in anti-war work during the Viet Nam War, doing, among other things, draft counseling through the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors.

Over every summer and since retirement, Bill and Judy made their home at Nellita by the Hood Canal, and they became deeply involved in environmental issues and organizations. In 2013, they were recipients of a Hood Canal Coordinating Council's Environmental Achievement Award for "their passionate and tireless roles as advocates for Hood Canal." Bill served as president of the Hood Canal Environmental Council for twenty consecutive years and served on the Kitsap County Planning Committee for thirteen. He and Judy were founding members of the Westsound Conservation Council.

Bill pursued many interests and passions. Keeping up with friends was vital, particularly students and writers he had mentored over the years. He thrived on the letters he received and wrote. Other valued activities were writing daily in a journal, listening to music from his extensive collection of LPs, playing the piano, attending concerts and plays, bird watching whenever possible, gardening, stamp collecting, and annual family trips to the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon.

Bill and Judy asked for a Care Committee in the early 2000's. All but one person had previously clerked the Meeting, and that one has now served in that position. The Matchetts did not expect all who were asked to accept, but each person did, with pleasure and pride. It was a joy to be able to provide some support to the family who had given us all so much. With the help of good neighbors, family, and Friends, Bill and Judy lived independently until March 2021, when they moved in with Kathy and her husband Chris. They celebrated their 72nd wedding anniversary less than two weeks before Bill died on June 21, 2021.

Bill's memorial was held February 27, 2022 on Zoom, which enabled over 200 people from across the U.S. and England to participate. Many had been Bill's students or colleagues or Friends.  Over and over, we heard of Bill and Judy's hospitality, generosity and warmth. He was a man who reached out to people. While walking on the UW campus with an unhappy student he was reported to have said: "look up at the cherry blossoms.”  Many participants at the memorial read one of their favorite poems of Bill's. One remembered his driving, a sometimes challenging experience, another his “sartorial flair.” The memorial was filled with a sense of joy and gratitude for the life of William Henry Matchett.