Remembering Bill Henningsgaard

A tribute from Advisory Board Chair Suzi LeVine

It is with very heavy hearts that we share with you the news that, on Friday, August 9th, 2013, Bill Henningsgaard, the I-LABS Advisory Board co-founder and former chair, and his son, Max lost their lives in a fatal airplane accident. They were on a trip to the East Coast visiting colleges.

Bill Henningsgaard speaking at a celebration, July, 2008Bill’s impact on I-LABS was immense. He was instrumental in creating the strategic plan that launched the current phase of I-LABS success; worked shoulder to shoulder with Drs. Kuhl and Meltzoff as they got funding to establish the first-in-the-world child MEG brain imaging device; and he poured enormous amounts of time and energy into building an engaged network of friends and supporters for I-LABS work.

Throughout his time with I-LABS, Bill beautifully blended calm with persistence, inquiry with empathy, and humor with gravity.

We know you will join the whole I-LABS team and board in extending our most profound condolences to Bill’s wife and daughters and Max’s mom and sisters, Susan Sullivan, Eleanor and Lucy. They are in our thoughts and hearts.

In lieu of flowers, the family respectfully requests that donations be made to the following;

  • For Bill, the family invites you to invest in our community, like he did, and make donations to any of the Eastside Pathways partners.
  • For Max, Camp Kiwanilong, located in Warrenton, Oregon. It was a special place for Max for many years. He leaves behind many memories and friends.

Suzi LeVine
Chair, I-LABS Advisory Board

From I-LABS Co-Directors Andrew Meltzoff and Patricia Kuhl

In an era of “me-first,” Bill Henningsgaard was a “we-first.” His greatest pleasure derived from helping others. He was passionate about arranging the world to be a little more caring, a little more sensible, and a little more just. His eyes sparkled when others succeeded. His mind was always churning about how to bring the best out in others, and we will be forever grateful that he shined his kind attention and amazing mind on helping children.

Pat and I first met Bill when we were setting up I-LABS, a brain development research institute at the University of Washington. Bill came forward as a community volunteer—drawn, we imagine, by the possibility of sparking scientific research that could help all children reach their full potential. Bill contributed thousands of volunteer hours, helping us pull together an organization that could plumb the mysteries of brain development and put that knowledge to use to help children. Bill was the founding Chair of our I-LABS Advisory Board, and helped sculpt the organization along with Suzi LeVine, co-Chair and now current Chair of our Board.

Bill had a great sense of wonder, lighting up at new scientific discoveries and asking provocative “what ifs.” Bill also had a finely tuned empathy instinct. When you discussed a new piece of science with Bill he would immediately provoke you to think about how the discovery could enhance the lives of parents and children, inform educators, or lead to fairer policies for families. The scientific discovery was immediately transformed from an inert fact to an actionable call for change.

When Bill walked into a room, everyone brightened. Suddenly the meeting was a little more inspired, a little more outwardly directed—instead of being a meeting about what was inside the four walls, it was transformed into brainstorming about how the work could assist others outside of the room. Bill had a laser focus that made roadblocks melt away, but he must have had some sort of mental bifocals, because his solutions were simultaneously driven by visions of how today’s steps could enable tomorrow’s dreams.

We are so happy that we had a celebration in his honor on December 4, 2012 when Bob Watt (a fellow Board member) encouraged Seattle to declare it “Bill Henningsgaard Day,” and we gathered at the Institute to tell Bill how much we cherished his gentle wisdom, his humble leadership, and his big heart.

The I-LABS family at the University of Washington will miss Bill terribly. Our hearts go out to Susan, his wife, and his two children Ellie and Lucy, as well as all the others affected by this tragedy. We don’t yet know how to pick up the pieces, but Bill, always an optimist, would want us to.

It is rare, perhaps once in a lifetime, that you meet a fellow traveler with a soft heart, a razor-sharp mind, and a soul that touches all those lucky enough to know him. Bill was universally loved. Humanity just lost one of our very best.

Andrew Meltzoff and Patricia Kuhl, co-Directors, I-LABS