William J. Gavin Ph.D.

YARMOUTH – Bill was one of the fortunate few for whom life and career were completely intertwined. He was a teacher of philosophy who lived his life in accordance with his personal philosophy. His primary interests focused on American philosophy, especially William James and John Dewey. But he was an interdisciplinarian at heart. He especially enjoyed teaching courses that covered multiple subject areas and eras. These courses included the last semester of the four-semester Honors program which he helped found, –All That is Solid Melts into Air– and another called Three Crises in Civilization. And he team-taught a summer course for gifted and talented high school students.

He was a student of several languages, having majored in Russian as an undergraduate and also studied Greek, Latin, and French at both Fordham Prep and Fordham University. It is a mystery how he could keep all those different alphabets straight. After his graduation from college, he was awarded a fellowship to study Russian abroad – seven weeks in Finland and three in the-then Soviet Union.

Bill received several awards recognizing the quality of his teaching and was well regarded by both students and fellow faculty. Comments from students best speak to the marvel of his teaching: “Bill, you found me and helped me find a path through the turbulence of my world”. And again “Bill is why we ask questions, why we keep asking questions.” And a comment from a colleague: “Bill was such an important part of my formative years at USM – a dear colleague and mentor like no other.”

He had the opportunity to teach abroad at both the University of Leuven in Belgium and the National University of Ireland at Galway. In addition he was invited to participate in and lecture at several universities overseas including Cologne Germany and Shanghai China. He also spent a month in Japan doing research for his book on death and dying. And a month one summer in San Diego studying Japanese culture.

Traveling was one of Bill’s pleasures, including two cross-country road trips. With Cathy, his wife of 52 years, he spent time in all the countries of Western Europe – except Portugal and Wales. After their semester in Leuven, Cathy and Bill, having taken leaves of absences, traveled for the balance of the school year. They bought an Alpha Romeo in Frankfurt and used it to travel across the continent to Greece, where they spent three months enjoying the sun, food and fun.

Another significant part of Bill’s life was dancing. Cathy and Bill met on the dance floor of a pub in Rockaway Beach, N.Y., dancing to a rock and roll band. Dancing was always part of their lives –did some Contra, some Greek, some Swing until the discovery of Irish Set Dancing. Both were smitten and proceeded to travel far and near to attend ceilis – and ultimately wound up teaching locally. Travel destinations included trips to Boston, New York, Catskills, Halifax. But the ultimate dancing experiences were in Ireland. They travelled often to a week-long dance event in Co Clare. And, while in Galway, they danced at least four nights a week! Many friendships were formed on the dance floor.

Bill’s primary interest in sports focused on basketball in his younger years. But sailing became his avocation later on. Indeed the move to Yarmouth was to be closer to the sail boat!! He also enjoyed cross-country skiing (some good memories with friends on many excursions) and jogging. He was jogging before jogging became a thing – running around the reservoir in Central Park in his high-top basketball sneakers.

Bill was born in Manhattan, N.Y. to William and Helen (Byrne) Gavin, both natives of Co. Mayo, Ireland. He attended the local Catholic school before heading to the Fordham University campus where he wiled away his time at the Prep, the College, and the Graduate School.

In 1968, the year he and Cathy were married, he accepted a position at the University of Maine at Portland, now the University of Southern Maine, as an Instructor of Philosophy. He spent 47 years at USM as the department grew and diversified. He was promoted over the years and ended his career as a Full Professor. After he retired in 2014 he was named Professor Emeritus.

Bill passed away very peacefully on Sunday, April 25, 2021.

He is survived by his wife, Cathy, whom he dearly loved; and by his sister, Bonnie. Survivors include his brother-in-law, Tom Kerley, and his wife, Marsha; and many, many first cousins especially Regina Monte, Francine Redmond (and her husband Pete), Jack Gavin (and his wife Margaret) and Tom Gavin (and his wife Mary). He will be missed.

Special thanks to the many folks who took such good care of Bill in his last days. Primary are the staff at Stroudwater Lodge. There are so many kind and caring people there, I dare not try to list them. And, of course, Hospice of Southern Maine personnel. Here I can specifically name Jay, Leslie and Edie who were such wonderful support to both Bill and Cathy.

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