Bill McConnell was a great friend, uncle, team leader, patriot, husband, father, extraordinary business man, a man of great integrity, a man of faith and someone who loved the Americas.
We lost Bill McConnell as 2013 was drawing to a close. Bill was born in 1924 and lived most of his life in Jackson, Michigan. He represented that great generation of World War II and trained pilots to fly most of the airplanes including the famous P-51. He married Helen Watterson and they had four children, Bill Jr., Chris, Bob and Michelle. He was an engineer that worked most of his career for Aeroquip and Consumer Power.
Many of us met Bill and Helen through the HELPS Medical team experience. After learning about HELPS and the medical teams, he and Helen volunteered on the Don and Lois O’Neal Dallas Medical Teams in the early 1990’s. They worked in the kitchen as Helen is a master cook and baker. One can’t forget her acres of pies and her dropping by at breakfast with another huge frosting laden cinnamon bun saying; “It’s good for you! Just one more! You will need it today!”
Bill met and became close to Don O’Neal’s brother Dick and his wife Delores in those Nebaj kitchens. Both men spoke the same “engineer” language and after their first trip they stayed on with the O’Neal’s in Antigua to do a quality assurance analysis of the team kitchen. Much of what we do and the system employed today in our kitchens and the overall team manual, came from these gentlemen. Jon Christiansen still remembers the sighs behind him as he peeled potatoes, knowing that according to the schedule he was supposed to be finished 4 minutes earlier.
Bill and Helen then asked Lois O’Neal what she thought of them developing a Medical Team from Michigan. Bill was retired by this time but as all the team leaders in our system, it took huge courage to step out and organize this effort. Bill had no hospital behind him and no real medical co-leader to rely on for recruitment.
He did it anyway and pulled in the Weatherwax Foundation and others such as the current medical team leader Jack Wagoner. He developed a strong cohesive team that has been in operation since 1996.
Bill continued until he could not physically make the trip. The year, before his last team, he suffered an aneurism while in Guatemala but was ready to go the next year. He was the type of man that when he said “Yes”, nothing could stop him from fulfilling those three letters.
Certainly with his other legacies, Bill’s greatest contribution was his family and his impact in Guatemala will go on forever. His twelve seasons has human and spiritual ripples that have cascaded through those highlands in ways that he is now discovering.
I know we will miss him, his laugh, thoughtfulness, intellect, work ethic, humor, and effectiveness. Speaking as his nephew, I have been most blessed and proud to say that William McConnell was my Uncle.
God Bless you Bill. You have joined my father, Dick O’Neal and other HELPS alumni for an effective, humor filled quality assurance meeting.
So in this New Year, may we celebrate Bill and his new life and ours. May we resolve to live to his standards of life and may God bless us all in 2014.”
President, HELPS International