William Cotter, 87

March 16, 2023

William “Bill” Reckling Cotter, 87, who split his time between Concord and Sarasota, Florida died peacefully at his Concord home on his 87th birthday, March 9, 2023, in the care of his family.

Bill was born on March 9, 1936 in Detroit, Michigan, the son of Fred J. and Esther (Reckling) Cotter and lived with his older brother, Fred C., near a large extended family. Bill and his family moved to Tarrytown, New York when he was in sixth grade and he graduated from Washington Irving High School there. He went on to Harvard College, where he was President of the Harvard Democratic Club. In 1956, while serving in that role, he recruited student volunteers at the request of the Chair of Massachusetts Students for (Adlai) Stevenson, Linda Kester, a student at Wellesley College. As Bill was fond of saying, Linda was his boss. They became friends and later, began dating.   In 1958, Bill graduated with high honors from Harvard College and went on to Harvard Law School.

Linda and Bill were married in 1959 at the Kester family home in New York and moved to Cambridge, where Linda earned her Masters in Teaching at the Harvard School of Education while Bill finished at Harvard Law School, graduating with honors in 1961. Bill and Linda enjoyed sixty-one years of true partnership, deep friendship and love until Linda’s death two years ago.

Bill had an extremely interesting professional life, including as clerk to a federal judge, as an assistant attorney general in Kaduna, Nigeria; as the Ford Foundation Representative in Bogotá, Colombia; as a White House fellow; as president of the African-American Institute in New York City; and as president of the Oak Foundation in Boston.

However, the professional role he treasured most was as the longest-serving President of Colby College in Waterville, Maine from 1979-2000.

In addition to his role as lead administrator and fundraiser, he also taught a course called “Law and Social Change” and became a dedicated and skilled teacher. He carried this deep love of teaching through the rest of his life. An unusual college president without a doctorate, during his time as president, he was pleased to receive five honorary degrees. He was especially proud of his work at Colby to strengthen its national academic reputation, build its endowment and make it a more inclusive community.

In addition to his professional pursuits, Bill was an active volunteer, including serving as treasurer of the Phillips Brooks House at Harvard, chair of the Oyster Bay (New York) Library Board, chair of the Board of Maine Public Broadcasting, treasurer of the Massachusetts Historical Society, and as a life trustee at Colby College.

Bill was an accomplished and respected leader in his professional career, but also was a truly beloved father and grandfather. He always made time for his family, despite his busy professional career. He prioritized coming home for dinner and loved to take the family to North Street Dairy Cone for homemade mocha chip afterward. Bill also delighted in attending his children’s and grandchildren’s sporting and artistic events. In the summer, he spent time sailing and water skiing with his children at the family’s “camp” on Great Pond. With Linda, he planned many wonderful family trips, including a six-week cross-country road trip to visit the national parks; a four-week trip through England, France and Italy; and special trips to celebrate family birthdays and anniversaries.

Bill was known for his optimism, down-to-earth nature, energy, and good cheer, excellent attributes for his many activities with his family and friends. Bill treasured his friendships and kept in regular touch with friends from high school, college, and his professional career.

Bill loved learning. He enjoyed exploring new places through international travel, especially cruises, and listening to audiobooks—both fiction and nonfiction. He always kept up with current events and each day, reading two or three daily newspapers from cover to cover.

Bill also loved the law. For the last twelve years of his life, he taught adult education classes in Massachusetts and Florida on the cases decided in the most recent U.S. Supreme Court term. Since the course was completely new each year, he had many students who took the class for multiple years in a row.

Bill lived for his last three years undergoing treatment for metastatic prostate cancer, a fact that was not evident to most people until last summer, when treatments lost their efficacy and his strength and vigor began to decline. Bill exercised daily and until May of last year, walked five miles per day. While his physical strength was greatly diminished, his mental capacity and speaking ability were not. Bill taught his final Supreme Court class over Zoom on February 14, just three weeks before his death. 

In his final days of life, Bill spent time with his children, grandchildren, and close friends at Newbury Court, a true community for him.

Bill was predeceased by his beloved wife, Linda, his precious daughter, Deborah and his dear brother, Fred. He leaves behind his son David of San Diego, CA; his daughter Elizabeth and husband Michael Schlax of Yarmouth, ME and his treasured granddaughters Elena and Jillian Schlax. He is also survived by his sisters-in-law, Marjorie Smith of Durham, NH and Gai Cotter of Novi, MI and their families; as well as countless other relatives and friends from the many stages of his life.

Bill will be laid to rest next to his wife and daughter in Concord, MA. A memorial gathering will be held in the spring.

In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation in Bill’s memory to Colby College or a charity of your choice.

Arrangements are entrusted to Dee Funeral Home & Cremation Service of Concord.  To share a remembrance or to offer a condolence in Bill’s online guestbook, please visit www.DeeFuneralHome.com.