In life, he looked after Shutesbury’s health
SHUTESBURY — When Lake Wyola Dam came close to overflowing in 2006, William G. Elliott, the chairman of the town’s Board of Health, spent the night in Town Hall monitoring the situation.
When the temperature of the refrigerator used to store the town flu clinic’s supply of vaccine dropped, Elliott went to fix it in the middle of the night and then set up cameras to monitor the vaccine remotely from his house.
Those are some of the tales local told by local officials and residents as they remembered Elliott, who died Monday after suffering a heart attack. He was 82.
Catherine Hilton, the board’s clerk and a close friend of Elliott’s, wrote in an email to residents Wednesday night that “Elliott died on March 24 in North Carolina. He was visiting his daughter, whom he devotedly nursed back to health after her near-fatal bout of viral encephalitis during most of 2013.
“Bill worked tirelessly for our town, but it never seemed like work when he was doing it,” Hilton continued. “He actually enjoyed meetings, which is a good thing because he went to so many, frequently as chairman. He was proud that someone once told him he played ‘people chess’: bringing people together to make things happen. He combined a strong scientific and engineering background with a genuine pleasure in meeting and talking with people.”
According to Hilton and Town Administrator Rebecca Torres, Elliott was a member of the Board of Health for nearly two decades, and played an important role in the success of numerous projects around Shutesbury, including the rebuilding of Leverett-Cooleyville-Prescott Road, the flu clinic, the repair of the Lake Wyola Dam, the organization of an annual well-water testing program, and frequent testing of the water in Lake Wyola.
“A big theme in Bill’s life was water and water protection, so as a Board of Health member, he took on the task of water monitoring at Lake Wyola, both in the lake and in wells around town,” Hilton said in an interview Thursday.
In addition to his duties on the Board of Health, Elliott also served as a representative to the town’s Water Resources Committee, Emergency Management Team, the Lake Wyola Dam Management Committee and Lake Wyola Advisory Council, which he helped to create, Hilton said.
“Bill was very passionate about the things that he worked on,” said Shutesbury Fire Chief Walter Tibbetts, who worked with Elliott on the Emergency Management Team. “If it had something to do with the Board of Health or water quality issues or anything like that, he was extremely passionate about that. He would work tirelessly on it.”
According to Hilton, Elliott was heavily involved in public policy at the state level as well, where he served as a member of the committee that wrote Title 5 of the Massachusetts State Environmental Code, which deals with the governance of on-site septic systems.
He was also co-director of the Watershed Citizens’ Advisory Committee to the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, which was instrumental in preventing the diversion of the Connecticut River through the Quabbin Reservoir to provide more water for Boston, according to Eileen Simonson, of Greenwich, Conn., who worked with Elliott on the committee and remained a close friend.
“He really has done wonderful work on the Board of Health over the years, especially with the Title 5 work,” Torres said. “His work at the state level, his work in all kinds of organizations, his following up on water quality issues, all the work he’s done down at the lake. He’s just been amazing. He’d be out there in his kayak, testing the water all by himself.
“He was always pushing technology to solve things, and he was always looking for new ways to solve problems,” she added.
Elliott was a graduate of the University of Michigan, where he received his master’s degree in engineering. In his 40s, he returned to school and earned a doctoral degree in analytical chemistry from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Elliott worked as the head of research and development for the Baird Corp. in Cambridge, and then started his own company, Spectra Metrics Inc. in Bedford, which developed and patented a new type of spectrometer, a scientific tool used to analyze the composition of chemicals, that could fit on a tabletop.
“At the time, spectrometry took up a whole room. He carried one of these things around in a station wagon and demonstrated it all over the country,” Hilton said.
“That analytic instrument, the Echelle Spectrometer, became one of the most widely used instruments in the world in the ’70s and early ’80s,” said Simonson.
Elliott is survived by four children, a daughter, Jocelyn, and three sons, Mark, Randy and Lawrence.
Torres said the Board of Health vacancy may be filled through a joint vote by the Select Board and the remaining four members of the health board, since the deadline has passed for candidates to run in the May town election.
“Bill was a really fun guy — he really had this great love of life and he was always enjoying himself. He was a Renaissance man, and had a fully lived, fully loved life,” Hilton said. “He was truly one of a kind and he will never be replaced. He was much loved and will be much missed.”