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Long-time Gilman physics teacher William Hamilton Porter passed away on January 26 from COVID-19, three weeks shy of his 98th birthday.
Raised in Baltimore, Bill was the son of Naval Captain William H. Porter and Amy Manning Porter. His father died when Bill was 12 years old, leaving him and two sisters to be raised solely by their mother. Accepted into Gilman at age 13, he met Headmaster Boyd Morrow, who (in his own words) “terrified him” and declared he would never go to school there. He subsequently attended boarding school at Millbrook School in New York, where Henry Callard was a teacher.
After graduating from the Naval Academy and a stint in the Navy, Bill returned to Baltimore and was hired by then Headmaster Henry Callard in 1947 to teach Upper School science and math. He taught from 1947 to 1980 and was head of the Science Department from 1974-1980. Bill is largely credited for strengthening the physics and chemistry programs and revamping the science curriculum. His students remember his puns in physics class — plays on words that helped make difficult lessons understandable — as well as his many creative and often entertaining in-class experiments. Sam Dell ’61, who established the endowed Porter Fund in 2012 to elevate the teaching of S.T.E.M. subjects, said “Mr. Porter could bring science down to real things that a boy in high school could understand.”
Bill also conducted the Glee Club from 1953-1956 and founded and led The Traveling Men, holding weekly evening rehearsals. He required the T-Men to be Glee Club members, as being in the Glee Club was not “cool” but being a T-Man was. For years he served as Chair of the Gilman Circus, which raised money for major school projects, including the Alumni Auditorium and the pool.
A hands-on guy who could build almost anything, Bill designed and — with the help of his physics class — installed the original sound system in the Alumni Auditorium. He was known, perhaps a little less popularly with the students, for plowing snow from the parking lots and sidewalks with his beloved 1959 Willys jeep, ensuring that Gilman never had a snow day. The school closing announcements on Baltimore radio station WBAL invariably said “Gilman School: open with no transportation.”
Bill’s greatest contribution to Gilman was the mark he made on his many students. Following his retirement to Cape Cod in 1980, many of them continued to stay in touch by mail, email, and in-person visits.
An admirer of Beethoven and Chopin, he was an accomplished pianist. He also had a talent for oil painting on canvas; his portrait of Henry and Clarissa Callard was installed in Callard Hall (Gilman Lower School) upon its dedication.
Mr. Porter moved to Brewster, Massachusetts after retirement, where he remained actively involved in community organizations for many years.
He was preceded in death by his wife of 48 years, ‘Jacquie’, in 1994, and his sisters Penny and Priscilla. He is survived by his sister Barbara of Jamestown, RI, his three children: Dolly Rowles (Walter “Bud”) of Brewster, Cape Cod; Romeyn Bombanti (Jim) of Beaumont, California; William H. “Skip” Porter, Jr. of Towson, Maryland (Peggy); five grandchildren – Vail, Gretchen, Hans, Lauren Ketryn, and Hamilton; and two great-grandchildren – Remington and Willow.
In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations be made to Gilman School. There are no plans for a memorial service at this time.