WALLA WALLA, Wash. – William “Bill” Wilmot, Professor Emeritus at the University of Montana, died peacefully on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, in Palo Alto, Calif., from lung complications. Bill received a double lung transplant at Stanford Hospital in April 2012, and spent this past year writing, consulting, enjoying his family and telemark skiing. Bill met the challenges of the year with the same enthusiasm and vitality he brought to his entire life. He took advantage of every breath he had, knowing that this gift of time was grounded in another family’s loss.
Bill was born May 31, 1943, to Henry “Wally” and Viola Wilmot in Vancouver, Wash., joining two sisters, Joyce and Jeri. The family moved to Upton, Wyo., and he grew up helping out at his dad’s service station, riding his horse Sandy on the open plains and fishing the high mountain lakes of western Wyoming. He found his academic niche on the debate team at the University of Wyoming, where he was a national finalist. His passion for debate developed into an interest in communication, and he earned a doctorate at the University of Washington in 1970.
He came to the University of Montana’s Department of Communication Studies in 1972 where he had a full and productive career until his retirement in 2000. Bill wrote the first book on interpersonal communication in 1988, “Dyadic Communication,” helping to define the new field. He went on to co-author the groundbreaking “Interpersonal Conflict,” just released in its ninth edition. Bill was most proud of his teaching awards while at UM, where he was a beloved mentor and sought-out instructor. He was active in a variety of professional organizations, but most bonded to the Western States Communication Association, serving as president in 1982 and receiving the Distinguished Service Award in 2001, its highest honor. As a consultant, Bill was an Advanced Practitioner of Conflict Management, mediator, facilitator, and executive coach, with a list of over 500 clients around the world. He assisted a wide variety of groups, including janitors in schools, corporate CEO’s, medical practices, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, and university faculty and staff. He directed the Collaboration Institute and worked with the Yarbrough Group of Colorado in organizational development. After retiring from academia, he focused on innovation practices in business with SRI International, Menlo Park, Calif. His book with Curtis Carlson, “Innovation,” was one of the Top Ten Books of 2006 in “Business Week.” Bill loved his work and was still actively fielding phone calls from the hospital until his health no longer permitted it.
Bill traversed the world for work and fun, visiting Africa, South America, Indonesia, New Zealand, Europe and Asia. He had a particular affinity for Nepal and Tibet, trekking the Himalayas with family and friends on six different trips. His heart connection to the Tibetan people led to his involvement with the Tibetan Children’s Education Foundation in India, which he supported as a board member, visitor and donor. Bill played as hard as he worked.
His three summers as a ranger in Yellowstone National Park were a cornerstone of his deep love for the wilderness, and he spent his summers creating “memory builders” on wilderness adventures with his adored children, Jason and Carina. He remained an active outdoorsman his entire life, hiking, backpacking, hunting and fishing and was most at peace on a mountain peak with his loved ones, including dogs Rosie and Gus. Bill had a generous, authentic presence and met every moment with a positive spirit. He always found the best in others and then helped them to see it in themselves. In talking with students, colleagues, business associates and friends, the most common reaction to knowing Bill is, “He changed my life.”
Bill is survived and lovingly cherished by his spouse, Melanie Trost of Walla Walla, Wash.; son Jason Wilmot (Kate Wilmot) of Jackson, Wyo.; daughter Carina Wilmot (Don Harris) of Missoula; grandchildren, Sydney and Lucas Wilmot of Jackson, Evan and Karson Stefaniak of Missoula and Grace and Andrew Harris of Helena; as well as extended Wilmot and Trost families, and a chosen family of dear friends.
A memorial celebration will be held at 2 p.m. on Sept. 28 in the University Center Ballroom on the University of Montana campus. In lieu of flowers, please consider donations to the Tibetan Children’s Education Foundation, Helena, MT; Sravasti Abbey, Newport, WA; the scholarship fund being set up at the Department of Communication Studies at UM, or the nonprofit organization of your choice.