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William M. (Bill) Hannay

Died: August 11, 2020

Bill Hannay was friendly, energetic, and humorous. Appropriately he was known by friends as “Spunky.” As an English major it was his good fortune to be assigned to Ezra Stiles College where drama thrived under the inspiration of master Richard Sewall. Bill was a regular on the stage at Stiles as well as The Yale Dramat. He nevertheless found time for intramural sports, singing with the Freshman and Apollo Glee Clubs and participating in the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity.

In our class book he cited English as his future graduate study. His sense of humor is captured in an account he wrote for the 45th reunion book about how he became an English major. His excellent performance in a French placement exam landed him in a high-level class with seven French majors. Alas the class was conversational French for which he was poorly prepared. The instructor gave him a “gentleman’s C” and advice that he study English. His plans for graduate school in English were interrupted when he was called for duty to his country as a US Army Specialist 4 in Viet Nam.

Upon completion of his service he decided that a career in law would better meet his needs, graduating from Georgetown Law School in 1973. He was a law clerk for US Supreme Court justice Tom Clark from 1974-75 and subsequently spent over 41 years with the Chicago law firm Schiff Hardin LLP in Chicago, specializing in anti-trust law. He served on the American Bar Association’s section on international law. He was active in his local community serving as president of the Yale Club and chairman of the Gilbert and Sullivan Society of Chicago.

A highlight of Bill’s life was writing and directing Naked Lunch: The Musical which debuted in New Haven during the 50th reunion of our class. His chief collaborator was Damon Baker who wrote the music and whose personal recollection accompanies this tribute. The cast featured other 1966 classmates including many with whom he performed on the stage of Ezra Stiles College. Naked Lunch was so successful that subsequent performances were held in Chicago and Los Angeles.

Bill was born December 3, 1944 in Kansas City, MO and attended Pembroke Country Day School prior to entering Yale. Family was central to Bill’s life. In his 10th reunion biography he reported meeting an “extraordinary young woman” named Donna Harkens. They were married September 30, 1978. Bill and Donna raised two daughters (Capron, 1981 and Blaike, 1984) and one son (William M Hannay IV also known as “Wiv”). They made their home in the Chicago suburb of Barrington Hills for over 33 years. Shortly before his death he and Donna were relocating to New York. He died August 11, 2020 in Stoney Brook, NY with his family by his side. He lived life to the fullest until the very end, suffering a brain hemorrhage following a weeklong vacation with his family.

Edward Folland

Damon Baker remembers

Bill Hannay radiated wit, goodwill, and momentum. According to the 1966 Old Campus, his pre-Yale nickname was “Spunky.” We reconnected around a piano at our 45th reunion following the introduction of my anthem, “Our Time Our Yale.” At the time I had no idea that esteemed lawyer Bill was an inveterate thespian and ultimately produced, directed, and/or performed in scores of plays and musicals.

Four years later in a June 2015 email Bill told me he was “pumped” about our upcoming 50th reunion and proposed the creation of a “scatological musical” based on the 1965 Boston obscenity trial of the notorious William Burroughs novel, Naked Lunch. He asked simply, “Are you in?” How could I – with a lifelong appetite for songwriting and time on my hands after retiring from my architectural design and construction company – resist?

Melodies sprang from song titles only Bill could conjure such as “Be Obscene and Not Heard,” “The Prosecutor’s Tango,” or “Praise the Law and Pass the Admonition.” By year’s end we had a read-through script and nearly all the songs in place. Propelled by Bill’s powers of persuasion, we were able to assemble a remarkably talented and dedicated troupe of ’66-ers.

Amazingly, with only a couple of at-home conference calls and three onsite rehearsals, Naked Lunch: The Musical came together under Bill’s direction in New Haven – and later in Los Angeles and Chicago. His other notable accomplishments notwithstanding, Bill told me more than once that creating this production was among the most meaningful experiences of his life.

Our collaboration continued and by the time of his unexpected passing in August 2020, we had made substantial progress on a new Yalecentered musical for possible performance at our 55th reunion. Set in the spring of 1966 before our graduation as nearly the last class without women, the production, which includes a love story, is called THE LAST ROAD TRIP: A Fable Down at Mory’s.

My favorite memory of being with Bill in our time at Yale is returning exuberantly from a road trip to Vassar in his two seat Triumph TR4, perhaps foretelling our free-spirited future collaboration, always grounded in humor. What I said to him that night as we got back to Ezra Stiles I say again: Bill…if you’re listening…it was a great ride.