William Godward, known to his many friends as Bill, passed away peacefully at his home in San Francisco on February 24th. He was 105 years old. He lived a full and accomplished life, always maintaining dignity, integrity, humility, a spirit of generosity, a sense of humor, and a deep desire to help others.
Bill was born in New Rockford, North Dakota on July 14, 1913 to William Alexander Godward, who was Superintendent of Schools, and Mattie Caroline Young. When he was eight, his family moved to northern California, living first in Alameda, then Fort Bragg, MacArthur, Mariposa, Sonoma, and finally Santa Rosa. It was in Mariposa as a teenager that he first discovered hiking in the Sierras, the beginning of his lifelong love of the mountains.
In 1934, Bill graduated Phi Beta Kappa from UC Berkeley with a degree in Economics. His greatest joy in college was the year he spent in Bowles Hall, where he made lifelong friends (and launched his share of water balloons). Although he had planned to pursue a PhD, an all-night walk and conversation in the Berkeley hills behind the campus with a dear friend led him to switch to law instead. He graduated from Boalt Hall (now Berkeley Law) in 1937 with an LLB and moved to Santa Rosa to begin practicing law with Barrett and McConnell.
In 1941, he moved to San Francisco and joined the Cooley law firm when it had only six attorneys. On December 7th, 1941, just after playing tennis near his family home in Santa Rosa, he learned of the Pearl Harbor attack. He returned to San Francisco the next morning and enlisted in the Navy. He became an intelligence officer and served in San Francisco, Hawaii, and the Philippines for the duration of the war.
In 1945, Bill resumed his law practice, becoming a partner of the firm in 1947. He relished his role in working with his clients; he had decades-long relationships with many of them, including the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. He established the firm’s initial outpost in Palo Alto in the early 1970’s, recognizing the needs of clients in emerging technology companies. He served as managing partner of the firm for many years. He continued to go to the office until he was over 100 years old. For years, he delighted in greeting everyone who worked there by name and in his later years, lamented that he wasn’t personally acquainted with the new people.
In addition to his work at the firm, Bill had an abiding love of music and in particular, opera. He saw Rachmaninoff play at the Civic Auditorium in San Francisco as a young boy and never forgot it. In the 1960s, he served as a board member of the Chamber Music Society, then as board member and president of Spring Opera. In 1971, he joined the board of San Francisco Opera, serving as president from 1995-2002. He believed deeply in the need to reach new audiences and to support new composers. In addition to the music, he loved the intricacy of mounting a production and spent time getting to know all the people involved.
Bill was married for forty-three years to Ann Chandler, who pre-deceased him in 1994. He is survived by his daughter, Jennifer Trainor, his son-in-law, Ned Trainor, and his grandchildren, Catherine, Margaret, and John Trainor.
A graveside service will be held Monday, March 4th, at 11:30 a.m. at the Santa Rosa Memorial Park. Memorial celebration will follow in San Francisco on Friday, March 22nd at 11:00 a.m. at the Episcopal Church of St. Mary the Virgin.
The family wishes to thank all those who have generously shared their memories of his remarkable life. Bill had asked that any donations be directed to San Francisco Opera or the Bowles Hall Foundation.