Cremation Society of Chittenden County
261 Shelburne Rd
Burlington, VT 05401
(802) 861-3058
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DR. WILLIAM J. "BILL" LEWIS - BURLINGTON - Dr. William J. "Bill" Lewis, Professor of Sociology, Emeritus, University of Vermont, passed away at home on July 8, 2015, from an age related illness. Bill was born Sept. 22, 1923, in Twin Groves, Idaho, the first child of William J. and Elsie (Roberts) Lewis. He attended schools in St. Anthony, Idaho, nurturing his love of words through the dramatic arts, and as a champion debater at St. Anthony High School. Old scrapbooks reveal he was well respected and popular, with a charming wit, and that his dance cards were always full. Bill enrolled at Brigham Young University. His course work was interrupted when, during World War II, he joined the U.S. Navy. Learning continued, at Midshipman School at Columbia University, Communications School at Harvard University, and while he served as Communications Officer aboard the aircraft carrier USS Shamrock Bay. After W.W.II, Bill returned to Brigham Young, earning B.A. degrees in Speech and Physics. In 1948, he obtained his M.A. in Mass Communication from Northwestern University, and in 1955, a Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Public Address from the University of Florida, this while helping to produce radio and television programs at WRUF in Gainesville, Fla., and WJXT in Jacksonville. He engaged in the above pursuits as a young husband, discovering life's adventures with his first wife, Roberta Jean (Watson) Lewis, and their growing family. Bill spent school years in the classroom and summers as a ranger at Yellowstone National Park. Wherever he was, he was teaching. Whatever he was teaching, he was good at it. Bill loved to share his experiences and insight, whether on special, private hikes through Yellowstone, or while helping unravel life's twists and turns during heart to heart talks. In 1954, after a year as an Instructor in Speech at Pennsylvania State University, Bill began his distinguished career at the University of Vermont, first, as a professor in the department of Communication. In conjunction with that role, as the department's Director of Radio and Television, he hosted the program, "Living and Learning" on local CBS affiliate WCAX-TV. He served as head of UVM's Mass Communication Division, and as Interim Department Chair. The scope of his contributions to Vermont's educational landscape is broad and historic. Bill was the founder and first station manager of WRUV, and the Director of a project report sponsored by the Ford Foundation that was instrumental in bringing public television to the state of Vermont. On a sabbatical leave during the 1967/68 school year, Bill was a lecturer at San Francisco State University, while assisting noted semanticist S.I. Hayakawa. As he would for more than half a century, he continued his work for the National Park Service, primarily at Yellowstone, as a ranger, naturalist, and a trainer of naturalists. His book, "Interpreting for Park Visitors," is considered a classic and a must-read for anyone in the field of interpretation and communication. In 1981, Bill became a professor in UVM's Department of Sociology. Students who kept in touch with him, and there were many, inevitably commented that his courses in General Semantics, Interpersonal Communication and others, were some of the most memorable and rewarding they had experienced. In 1988, Bill was the recipient of a Fellow Award from the National Association of Interpretation for his written and oral achievements. He was cited as, "...The most knowledgeable and experienced oral communication specialist in the nation, and, perhaps, the world." In 1989, the year of his retirement from UVM, he received the college's George V. Kidder Award for excellence in teaching and motivating students. In retirement, Bill remained active. Friends and family fondly recall trips to Yellowstone, Lewis family reunions, weddings, birthdays, outings to local music and theater events, and the "standing room only" carol sings hosted each winter by Bill and his wife, Sue, at their home in Underhill Center. Until his move to Burlington in 2014, Bill was a familiar sight on Beartown Road, walking to the post office, accompanied by his devoted Labrador Retriever, Eddie. He will be remembered, too, for his generous support of the community, through gifts of time and resources. Bill is survived by his wife, Suzanne Kusserow of Underhill Center; her children, Paul, Karl and Adrie Kusserow, and their families; his children, daughter, Kathy Scerra and her husband, Chet, of Webster, N.Y.; son, Britt Lewis and his wife, Mila, of Gardiner, Mont.; son, Jim Lewis and his wife, Chiyoko, of Livingston, Mont.; son, Roger Lewis and his wife, Thea, of Burlington, Vt.; and siblings, sister, Marilyn Jones and her husband, Glen, of Reno, Nev.; sister, Carla Hicks and husband, Jerry, of Reno, Nev.; brother, Robert and his wife, Phyllise, of Redmond, Wash.; and sister, Karen Tarwater and her husband, Mack, of Tempe, Ariz. Bill is also survived by dozens of adoring grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews; and many dear friends, including his first wife, Roberta Jean Lewis of Sierra Vista, Ariz. A sister, Margaret (Lewis) Ellis predeceased him in 2003. Bill's family would like to offer special thanks to the Converse Home in Burlington, and the staff of Home Instead, for their friendship, care and consideration. A celebration of Bill's life will be held at a later date, and a tree will be planted in his honor at Moore Park in Underhill Center, with a notice of gathering and remembrance announced sometime in September. Arrangements are in the care of the Cremation Society of Chittenden County, a division of the Ready Family, 261 Shelburne Rd., Burlington. To send online condolences, please visit Those who wish may make contributions in his memory to The Craftsbury Chamber Players, PO Box 37, Craftsbury, VT 05826 (; or to the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, 215 South Wallace Ave., Bozeman, Montana 59715 (

Published in The Burlington Free Press on July 11, 2015
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