William S. Massey, 96, of Hamden, CT, died peacefully on June 17 at Whitney Center in Hamden, CT. Son of Robert and Alma Massey, Bill was born on August 23, 1920 in Granville, IL, and grew up in Peoria. He was predeceased by his wife of 60 years, Ethel H. Massey. He is survived by his sister, Mary Baumann, of Ames, IA. He is also survived by his children and their spouses, Eleanor and John Cox of Novato, CA, Alexander Massey and Helen Cheng of Cameron Park, CA, and Joan Massey and John Rorhbach of Fort Worth, TX, and his grandchildren, Thea and Ty Cox, Kathleen and Emily Massey, and Ethan Rohrbach. Bill began his studies at Bradley University in Peoria, IL during the Depression, where he competed on the Wrestling Team. He transferred to the University of Chicago to complete his B.S. and Masters degrees during the years when Robert Hutchins was President. After serving as a Meteorologist aboard aircraft carriers in the U. S. Navy during WWII, he received his PhD from Princeton University in 1949. He taught for ten years on the faculty of Brown University in Providence, RI, where his three children were born, and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1958. In 1960 he moved to Yale University, where he was named the Erasmus L. DeForest professor of mathematics. Textbooks on Algebraic Topology that Bill wrote sitting at a sun-bleached table at Kelsey Island in Long Island Sound during summers beginning in the ‘60’s are still in print. Bill loved playing squash on his lunch hour, sometimes winning games with graduate students. Ahead of his time, he advised his children to find a form of exercise they enjoyed that they could keep up throughout their lives. In his 50’s Bill discovered birdwatching. He became a decade’s long member of the New Haven Bird Club, continuing to attend their lectures when mobility limitations forced him to retire from the field. He traveled to Africa and Central America for birdwatching and had an extensive life-list of the birds he had seen. Bill read widely in literature, with favorite authors being Joseph Conrad, Anton Chekov, and Alice Munro. He was a humble man; his children only learned from outside sources that their father had done original work in mathematics. Bill loved his work, and wished all people could have work they felt good doing. He was a true egalitarian, who was proud that Yale accepted students without looking at how much financial aid they needed. He was a man of integrity. A memorial service and reception will be held on Friday, June 23 at 2 PM at the Unitarian Society of New Haven, 700 Hartford Turnpike, Hamden, CT with reception following. Contributions in William’s memory may be made to the Menunkatuck Audubon Society - PO Box 214 - Guilford, CT 06437.

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  1. I met Bill (and Ethel) when I moved to North Lake in 2000. And my mother lived across the hall from Bill in the Whitney Center Health Center. It was my privilege to know them both. Bill was always interested in the world around him and the people in it. He will surely be missed.

  2. My deepest condolences to Mr Massey’s family. When my husband was at Whitney Center he sat at the dining table with Mr Massey. Many times I would join them. I enjoyed my conversations with Mr Massey and his company. So sorry for your loss,

  3. My condolences to the Massey family. I knew Bill through jaunts to Yale each week to participate in the topology seminar. He was an excellent mathematician, and he was also kind, humble, and supportive. I have enjoyed many good conversations with him. I will miss him.

  4. So sad to learn of the passing of a lifelong friend of our family and fellow algebraist and companion birdwatcher of my father, Tsuneo Tamagawa. Many memories of Bill Massey at Math Department picnics, dinners, and walks in cold weather. Always an interesting person to talk to, even toward the end when we could mostly see him in the health center at Whitney Center. We will miss Bill Massey our friend, nature lover, Eagle Scout, and mathematician. Condolences to his wonderful family.

  5. Bill was a gentle man as well as a gentleman. He always had a kind smile, a nod of greeting, and a parsimoniously phrased reply to any personal inquiry or social query. I knew Bill casually at the Unitarian Society in Hamden. I will not forget his kind face. I offer condolences at his death and acknowledge gratitude for his presence in life.

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