Honoring William A. Bernett: 1937-2017
Born and raised in Iowa, Bill graduated from East Waterloo High School in 1955. When it became apparent to him that he wasn’t going to be drafted as a catcher for the New York Yankees, he decided he should get serious about his education instead. After completing his undergraduate studies in chemistry and business at Iowa State University, he earned his PhD in chemistry at the University of Illinois in 1966, under the direction of Professor Douglas Applequist. He then began his long and distinguished 28-year career at 3M in their New Business Ventures Division in St. Paul, MN.
Advancing through numerous key positions, his strong cross-cultural communication skills and understanding of complicated international business concepts made him an ideal candidate for executive positions in 3M’s R&D labs in Japan and Germany. Bill was the consummate diplomat, always seeking to learn, understand, and appreciate cultural differences. He thrived in the ever-changing environment of international business.
Bill will be remembered by his colleagues for his unique ability to simplify complex issues, his robust sense of humor, his inherent kindness, and his absolute devotion to mentoring talented employees.
His passion for science, technology and business persisted in his retirement. He taught Global Management courses in the MBA program at the University of Phoenix and was a respected judge at the annual local Science Fairs in Tucson. Bill felt particularly honored to meet and encourage future scientists and was inspired by their enthusiasm and exciting work.
A note from Jill Bernett
In 2011, we learned that Bill was suffering from a relatively rare and debilitating condition called Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA), a brain disorder that robs people of their language skills. Unlike other aphasias, PPA is degenerative: It slowly and inexorably gets worse. Unlike other degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s, PPA leaves most of a patient’s mental faculties untouched. Individuals can still plan, reason, and multi-task. Their memories stay healthy and their personalities remain unchanged. However, they cannot express themselves and consequently become trapped inside their own heads. Eventually they become totally mute, and, sadly, this is what began happening to Bill.
There is no cure for PPA. There are no drugs or other medical interventions specifically designed for PPA. The main treatment is speech therapy, which uses behavioral approaches that lessen the impact of the disease. Bill’s Mayo Clinic neurology team referred him to the highly regarded University of Arizona Aphasia Research Project and Clinic. Their remarkable staff and treatment protocols were instrumental in providing the skills, support, and hope Bill needed to carry on in the best way possible, given the challenges he faced.
In July 2016, Bill unfortunately suffered a subdural hematoma—a brain bleed. He never really recovered from the resulting severe neurological problems.
Bill died as he lived—never complaining and always trying to see the positive in the diminishing landscape of his life. I learned to appreciate how much was still left after so much had been taken away. He could have easily given up hope. But that was not Bill Bernett.
He was my kind, brilliant, brave, and gentle hero. I am so blessed to have been able to share 36 years of wonder, adventure, and love with him.
A note from Dave and Sue Milligan
After receiving PhD degrees from the University of Illinois, Bill and I both joined 3M Co. in Minnesota. My wife, Sue, and I became close friends with Bill and his family. As our families grew, we had many enjoyable times together. Over the years our careers carried us to a variety of locations, but we always stayed in touch and managed to get together surprisingly often. We watched Bill and Jill as they together faced the challenge of his progressive aphasia. Bill's intellect remained as sharp as ever; however, he gradually lost his ability to link his speech to his thoughts. He diligently worked with the aphasia experts at the University of Arizona who helped him to minimize his rate of decline. They, too, found Bill to be a truly wonderful person.
As close friends we provided the initial donation to establish an endowment fund in Bill's name at The University of Arizona Foundation. This Fund will support aphasia research; Sue and I thought this is exactly what Bill would have wanted, and Jill agreed. Please join us in honoring Bill by supporting this research to help others facing this devastating disease.
From the UA Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences
It was truly our honor to serve Bill Bernett as he participated in both clinical treatment research and aphasia group membership. The speech-language pathologists and graduate clinicians who had the opportunity to work with Bill describe him as a warm and caring individual who was bright and engaging.
The Bill Bernett Memorial Fund has been generously started as an endowment by Dave and Sue Milligan at The University of Arizona Foundation (UAF), which is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization. Dave and Sue have benevolently agreed to match gifts of up to $1000 (for a total match of $50,000) in Bill’s honor, as they recognize the need for continued research in aphasia and helping clients and families affected by this debilitating language impairment. Your contribution is fully tax-deductible.
If you would like to contribute to the Bill Bernett Memorial Fund with a gift of any size, you may donate online or via check. We sincerely thank you for all gifts made in Bill’s honor. It means so much not only to Jill, Dave, and Sue, but also to many other families affected by progressive aphasia.
For online donations, please click here.
Designation: Bill Bernett Memorial Fund
Checks can be made out to The University of Arizona Foundation, with a note indicating the gift will go to the Bill Bernett Memorial Fund, and sent to:
Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences
Attn: Dana Eriksson
The University of Arizona
P.O. Box 210071
Tucson, AZ 85721-0071