William Taylor Beale
1928 - 2016
{ "" }
Share William's life story with friends and family
Send an Email
Or Copy this URL to Share

ATHENS - William Taylor Beale, 88, died peacefully at home Sunday 24 July 2016 attended by his immediate surviving family – wife Carol and children Faith, Dan and John – and loving friends. A lifelong inventor and philosophizer, it was William's driving ambition to leave the world a better place on the basis of sound engineering and innovative thought. Although he claimed never to have achieved the full extent of his intentions, his inventions were essential components of products on Earth and in Space, his company and its spinouts employed hundreds, and his philanthropic funding enabled local, regional and global extension and continuation of his visions.

William was born to Katherine and David Beale on 17 April 1928 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the third of five siblings and the eldest of the three brothers. Self-described as a youth who was a "loner, a dreamer, and an inventor of usually warlike things," William segued from homemade artisan-well-diving equipment and road-asphalt bombs to early employment as a Naval radar technician during the final year of World War II. He discovered in this engagement "the bloody waste of war games," an assessment that carried through his educational career. After achieving an MS from Caltech, including engaging in the study of intercontinental ballistic missiles, he "resolved, deep in his muddled soul, never to use this knowledge for its original intended purpose." He adhered absolutely to these principles, including strong activism and support of disengagement in military conflict during the Vietnam War; and later in rejection of a potential weapons development contract that would have succored his struggling small business, but ran against his deepest convictions regarding the essential role of rational and peaceful engagement between nations.

While achieving his second MS from MIT in Boston in 1958, William met and married Harvard graduate Carol Brand Beale, with whom he moved to Athens, Ohio in 1961 as a faculty member in Ohio University's engineering department. With family support, the couple purchased an old farmhouse on 300 acres of rolling, rural Appalachian woodland. William aided Carol's tireless maintenance and development of gardens and multiple livestock while himself maintaining the underlying technology (including the well and roof-water systems; the many generations of VW bugs, rabbits and buses; the 200-year-old barn and other outbuildings; and the demanding remodeling and improvement of the 100-year-old farmhouse). The couple dedicated themselves to a carbon-free existence, and for the final decade of his life William continued to maintain and improve their woodstove-fired, hot-water-circulation system as well as their all-solar electrical system (which powered, in addition to the homestead, their proudly-so-labeled 'Runs on the Sun' electric Leaf vehicle).

William was an early member and literal builder of Athens Unitarian Fellowship, which for decades served, and continues to serve, as a welcoming location for lectures, plays, thoughts, and communal sharing by generations of families like his own.

William's 1964 invention of the free-piston Stirling engine was the impetus for founding Sunpower, Inc., a company dedicated to the before-its-time principle that engineering innovation in renewable-energy-derived power is a world-saving opportunity. In perennial search of financial support for Sunpower's rich intellectual property and multiple technical innovations, William traveled frequently to Europe, Asia and the Indian subcontinent, gaining and incorporating lessons- learned from international experts and experience. In his Athens home office, Sunpower attracted global expertise to a strong young technical team and expanded its influence, over three and a half decades of continuing R&D, into cooling and cryocooling as well as continued engine development, prior to the family's sale of the business in 2011.

The business exit enabled William's distribution of philanthropic dollars to local groups engaged in carbon footprint reduction business and research and outreach; to regional non-profits dedicated to community development and environmental conservation; and to multiple individual technology start-ups.

William always delighted in the education and encouragement of the next generation. He included among his many mentorships a Saturday Science Seminar for local youth, several of whom went on to join the current generation of young technology startup entrepreneurs. Many of William's mentees cite his marked influence on their own sense of innate curiosity about the mathematical, physical and mechanical principles at work in the world around them. Many also remember William's perennial 'kid test:' the Prisoner's Dilemma, in which participants are given the opportunity to collaborate and ensure continued success for all, or to compete and destroy one another. William's instructional game was, for many mentees and young relatives, a formative moment in their own perception of the role of cooperation and conflict resolution as favored tools in a fraught social fabric.

William's 'Fables for our Time,' published in local newspapers and online with Community Solutions of Yellow Springs, Ohio, perennially reinforced his messages that straightforward engineering and high-minded conservation are the basic underlying principles of a visionary life well-led. William was a voracious reader and participant in vigorous ongoing conversations with friends, family, associates and passersby on these and related topics. His favorite publication, re-read during his last days, was E.O. Wilson's "Half Earth: Our Planet's Fight for Life," a book incorporating many of William's most passionate beliefs about the duties incumbent upon humans, as the greatest Earthly change factor, to preserve and protect the globe under their dominion. His most recent essays are accessible at http://www.visioningthefuture.org<http://www.visioningthefuture.org/>.

William is survived by his wife and three children and their spouses and partners, six grandchildren, two siblings Inez Harrell and David Beale and a broad local, regional and global network of family, friends and followers. A public memorial service will be hosted by the Athens Friends Meeting in September. Contributions in William's memory would be welcomed by organizations working on Carbon reduction goals such as Community Solutions of Yellow Springs, Ohio at http://www.communitysolution.org/ , Union of Concerned Scientists at www.uscusa.org<http://uscusa.org>, and Rural Action of Athens, Ohio at http://ruralaction.org/ .

To Plant Memorial Trees in memory, please visit our Sympathy Store.
Published in The Athens NEWS from Jul. 25 to Aug. 22, 2016.
Memories & Condolences
Not sure what to say?
View Printed Guest Book
14 entries
July 19, 2019
I will never forget him
Mark Labinov
May 25, 2019
So sorry for your loss. May you receive strength and comfort from God. "He will make you firm, He will make you strong, He will firmly ground you". 1Peter 5:10
September 25, 2016
What a remarkable individual who was so deeply involved with making this planet and our environment a much better place.

Had the honor of having several lengthy conversations with him about the work he had done and what he was deeply involved with at the time. Thanked him then for his important work, thanking him again now.

Such a delightful and inventive mind put into action for the betterment of all.

Set such an inspired and extraordinary example for all of us.

Heart felt condolences to his family and friends
Kathleen Galt
August 31, 2016
My condolence to the family, May you find comfort in knowing that your love one is resting in the God's memory. Psalm 68:20.
August 23, 2016
To the family of William Taylor Beale, I am so sorry for your loss. I'm sure you will miss him dearly. Please find comfort in knowing one day we will see our loved ones again. John 6:40. Matthew 5:5.
August 22, 2016
Celebrating a life well lived. We will cherish the memories forever.
August 18, 2016
Dan and Family,

So Sorry to hear of your loss. Now I know why Dan missed our class reunion. I was Joking around and put a name tag on with Dan's name like I did 30 years ago. Fritz was quick to correct my spelling. I forgot the e on the end. We talked of your father and the houses he had built and all the interesting things he had done. He will be surely missed. May you all find peace in this time of sorrow.
August 5, 2016
I am very sorry to hear that William passed away. I worked at Sunpower for several years circa 1990, and have never since worked on technology as interesting as free-piston Stirling machines, nor with such an interesting cohort of engineers and technicians. After that first, fascinating job, my career path has inevitably been a string of letdowns -- but I am grateful to William anyway for getting it started! I'm also grateful for my many fond memories of working for William and of the wonderful Athens communities of Unitarians and Friends in which he was immersed. His intelligence, drive, and fierce dedication to the stewardship of the planet will be sorely missed.
My sincere condolences, Eric Bakeman
Eric Bakeman
August 1, 2016
Our sincere condolences to the family. William Beale was the most remarkable man, the MAN for all seasons. It is thanks to him our family thrives in the US.
The Labinovs
August 1, 2016
I met William in 1976 at a UCLA extension course on the design of Stirling engines. I had read William's technical papers and had come to the conclusion that his free-piston invention was the only practical means to effect this machine. The School of Engineering at the Witwatersrand University had purchased what must have been one of Sunpower's very first products. A small free-piston Stirling engine with electrical output. From the perspective of how astonishing this little device was, consider that this year 2016 is the 200th anniversary of the original Stirling patent. The basic concept has languished for a very long time on account of its impracticality in the form originally envisaged.

William made a huge impression on me that day in 1976. I still lived in South Africa in which the oppression of apartheid had reached a breaking point. William was well informed about South Africa but I felt no judgement towards me. We spoke about social injustice and the positive role that engineering is able to play in alleviating misery. He took me to visit JPL and I was included in a design review of a Stirling engine being developed there. I visited with William a second time in 1978 on a trip to the USA. This time I was accompanied by my wife Gill who also had business in Athens. In her case to visit with an exiled South African poet. William had already spun-off Sunpower from Ohio University. Their offices were in Bromley Hall. We took a walk down to the Byard Street machine shop and there I saw, for the first time, Stirling engines performing at respectable power levels. After returning to South Africa, I was thrilled to receive a job offer from him. Unfortunately, I'd previously accepted an offer from a different company in the US so I had to decline. We did however stay in touch and I received a second offer from him in 1981 which brought me and my family to Athens where we have been ever since. Sunpower was of course already established as a major innovator in Stirling engine technology and I was able to draw great benefit from my work there. The Sunpower people were willing to share their knowledge and experiences in an environment that was both challenging and supportive. William of course being the source of encouragement and inspiration. During this period, I was able to search the limits of this technology and to appreciate William's simple rule that in order to succeed one should not be intimidated by failure. Another rule, by the way, was to make sure that the inside was smaller than the outside. Sounds obvious but nevertheless often violated. Sunpower was an environment where design, analysis, fabrication and experimentation were closely coupled. Things deemed irrelevant or worse, obstacles to this process were summarily dispensed with. Basically heaven for a gear-head like myself. For the rare privilege of this experience, I will always be grateful. In 1995 I had exhausted my urge to experiment and with William's encouragement, spun off Global Cooling for the purpose of developing to commercialization, free-piston Stirling cooling engines. During this period, William remained eager to share ideas and offer encouragement. Today Global Cooling employs about 90 people and is rapidly growing. This enterprise owes its existence and success to the indefatigable efforts of many people but without doubt, William played the progenitor role to perfection.
Dave Berchowitz
July 27, 2016
Dear Faith,
What an extraordinary man your dad was and how I wish I could have met him. Sending deepest condolences to you, your mom and your whole family: you are in our thoughts and prayers.
Gina Fleitman
July 26, 2016
Sincere condolences on your loss. May fond memories and loving words comfort your family at this difficult time. (Isaiah 57:15)
T. R.
July 26, 2016
Dear Faith, Mrs. Beale and family,
I have such strong memories of occasional weekends at your farm, listening to Cosby records in your father's workshop, milking the cow, and your dad whistling some grotesque tune as he went out to behead a rooster, which we then plucked and eventually ate. Eye-opener for this girl. And always something fun, daunting and different in which to lose ourselves.
Later, I've appreciated how your dad truly and stubbornly lived his beliefs (talk is cheap). Having now worked a bit with a company using sterling-motor technology and counter-currents for cooling I can also see his genius! The technology has been around for generations, but the foresight to put it to use in ways that help humanity is truly unique, as was your father.
Sending condolences and best wishes in this difficult time.
Jessica Marks
July 25, 2016
My parents Bob and
Dorothy Yaw both told me how much they enjoyed his company .
I remember him at UUA well. My condolences to his family.
Invite others to add memories
Share to let others add their own memories and condolences