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In Memory of Bill Walsh: SLAC's "Can Do" Legend

(Photo: Bill Walsh)William "Bill" J. Walsh began working at SLAC June 8, 1964 as a Senior Mechanical Inspector and transferred into Group B as Mechanical Specialist on July 1, 1970. He retired as a Science & Engineering Associate on October 31, 1981. After a long retirement Bill passed away on September 13th, 2006, surrounded by his loved-ones in Nice, CA, on the shores of Clear Lake about 150 miles north of SLAC.

Bill was stationed in the South Pacific in WWII and was one of the very first assignees to the Seabees when it was established by the Navy in 1941 as a construction battalion. The Seabees became known for their resourcefulness and novel approaches. One of the Seabee mottos was "Can Do," which was repeatedly demonstrated by his contributions to SLAC's Group B.

Bill's initial assignment was in the Alignment Group. When the accelerator was completed, the alignment group transitioned to support the experimental program. Later, he joined Group B as a mechanical tech.

Bill was an energetic "take charge" person who also had a variety of skills. Once he knew what the goals and schedules were he thrived on being able to take control and coordinate the outcome. He especially enjoyed working with and helping (and teaching, advising and teasing) the graduate students and post docs. But it was more than the good rapport that Bill had with others at SLAC that made things happen. He could resort to his unwritten I.O.U.'s!

Bill worked as a team member on the design and building of many experiments in the Research Yard behind End Station B. First, on a photon beam and a wide aperture magnetic spectrometer with magnetostrictive spark chambers. The beam was monochromatic, created from from the annihilation of positrons in a liquid hydrogen target. It was replaced by an 18 Gev bremmstralung photon beam, and later by the creation of a hadron beam to study inverse photoproduction with essentially the same apparatus. This phase saw Bill helping educate Steve Williams (a graduate student with the LBL group), Blair Ratcliff and Brig Williams (graduate students from Stanford). A radiofrequency separated kaon beamline was then built into a rather sophisticated spectrometer able to handle the high instantaneous rates driven by the SLAC linac duty cycle. With the new beamline came a series of experiments studying the strange meson spectroscopy and another set of students and postdocs. The final evolution of the experimental apparatus was the LASS spectrometer. During this time he was teacher and confidant and advisor to eight graduate students, twenty five post docs and six people who went on to become faculty at other institutions and eight who became staff members at this laboratory.

Ed Keyser, now retired from EFD, recalls that he and Bill used to go on 'scrounging" expeditions looking for useful material and hardware that was left over from completed experimental setups. Bill had a better supply of bolts, nuts, fittings and just "stuff" than SlAC Stores did.

Come hell or high water, what was always in-violate at SLAC was the beam turn-on schedule. As with all of us, Bill was especially self-driven, noting his Seabee style when the time got close. No matter what, the experiment was going to be ready to run. Sometimes the finishing touches were not very pretty, occasionally secured with c-clamps and duct tape. Ultimately, he made these improvisations (an operative term around experiments) more permanent.

He had a wonderful relationship with students and post docs, offering just as much insight into successful experimental scientists as any formal class. He made lasting friendships with generation after generation of these temporary residents in the groups.

Bill had a full life that included his war service, working at Ryan Aircraft in Southern California, involvement in various business endeavors that included home/apartment design and construction, and finally his career at SLAC. In retirement Bill enjoyed the outdoor life of a "country gentleman" at Clear Lake. While he cherished his time at SLAC, he is now at rest with his wife Anna in a place he cherished in San Diego at Cabrillo National Monument overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Bill is survived by his son Richard and daughter-in-law Tara, who cared for him in his final years.

—Richard Walsh, Al Kilert, David Leith, Blair Ratcliff, Steve Williams, Ed Keyser.
    SLAC Today, December 5, 2006

Above image: Bill and Anna Walsh.