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William Gansner

March 15, 1947 — March 15, 2024

Madison

William Lynn Gansner, brother, husband, attorney, public servant, friend, and “Our Pop” has died. He was 77 years old to the day. In the end, bladder cancer got him, though he strove valiantly to stay with us. He wanted to live, dammit. There were Badger games and grandchildren’s sporting events to watch, cocktails and cups of coffee to drink, a dog to throw balls for, trips to take, books to read (so many books), a new marriage to cherish, loved ones to spend time with and the possibility that this year “The Weirdos” would finally come out on top in his fantasy baseball league.  


Bill was born in St. Louis, Missouri on the Ides of March 1947. His father, Lynn was a postal worker who served in the Navy during WW2 and his mother, Ella Mae was a court reporter.   Bill excelled at school and debate, graduating from Lindberg High School in St. Louis. He then attended Beloit College, where he played football, co-founded an independent fraternity (lester g. compains memorial elementary school pack 44), edited the school newspaper (the Round Table), continued debating, had internships all over the country, including one with the City of San Francisco in 1968 and was president of the class of 1969.


While at Beloit, he met his first wife, Katharine. They both continued to the University of Wisconsin Law School. They produced three loud, hungry, and fairly ridiculous boys, all of whom became excellent swimmers and Grade A interrupters. Bill was immensely proud of his sons and put their well-being ahead of his professional (and personal) interests throughout his life. He served as the coach or official at innumerable sporting events, chauffeured his family on road trips all over the country, and showered his sons with advice, attention, and love.   He would often say that raising his sons was his greatest achievement.


Later in life, Bill was fortunate to meet, love, and marry Maria Swift. Bonding over shared values, mutual interests and love of dogs, they quickly acquired their own pup, and began to build a life together. In the following years, constrained by both the pandemic and a failing knee, the two traded their wishes for travel and adventure for a quiet life of sweet routine, love and kindness. In addition to his boys and grandchildren, Bill’s stepdaughters along with both of Bill and Maria’s extended families and friends ensured his life in retirement was full of joy and happy companionship.


 Bill served as an Assistant Attorney General for the Wisconsin Department of Justice for over four decades, leading the Criminal Appeals Unit for several years. He was a skilled oral advocate, appearing numerous times at both the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Many of the Wisconsin Supreme Court cases that he argued are relied upon for the important legal principles that he helped establish.


 As he put it, his job was to “do the right thing.” That meant fighting hard when the State was in the right, while acknowledging when something had gone wrong. It also meant treating everyone with kindness and dignity. As a result, judges trusted Bill and opposing lawyers loved working with him. Moreover, he was an attentive and open colleague, making close friends throughout his time at the DOJ. His love of his colleagues led him to take on the job of president of the Wisconsin State Attorney’s Association, the labor union representing attorneys working for the state government.  


Bill also served in the judiciary, working as the municipal judge in Shorewood Hills for 14 years, and as the United States Magistrate Judge for the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin from 1980 - 1984. He taught legal studies at Beloit College, inspiring many future attorneys. Bill also gave back to the community in other ways, such as serving on the Shorewood Hills pool committee and helping oversee the pool's modernization and redevelopment. Less formally, Bill was always willing to help friends or their families with legal advice.  


 Bill was a talkative man. He would chat up anyone, in almost any circumstance, and forged friendships quickly. As one might expect of an appellate attorney, he was a fine writer and had a quick wit, which made him an excellent heckler at sporting events. He was often found reading, usually two or three books at the same time, and would never leave a bookstore without making a purchase.  His Badger season tickets (football and men’s basketball) were always available for family and friends, and Bill knew that the hours he spent at games with the people he loved made those tickets a worthy investment. Those who loved Bill cherished his gregarious nature, his curiosity, his love of adventure, his sense of humor, and his almost reflexive willingness to support.


Bill was preceded in death by his father, Lynn William, his mother, Ella Mae, his stepfather, William Hommert, his stepsister, Elizabeth Pfeiffer and his younger brother, Ted Hommert. He is survived by his wife, Maria Swift; his sons, Nicholas, Anderson (Amanda), Elliott(Ananya), and  stepdaughters, Nora (James) Cauley and Alice Swift-Burnham; his grandchildren Dashiell, Henry, and Zora; his older sister, Joyce (Gene) Oitter; and his beloved dog Clover.


A public memorial service will be held on Friday, May 31, 2024 at 6:30 PM at Olbrich Gardens in Madison, Wisconsin. All are welcome. 

 

In Lieu of flowers donations may be made to:

The Southern Poverty Law Center. https://support.splcenter.org

Doctors without Borders. https://donate.doctorswithoutborders.org

Frank J Remington Center at U W Law School. https://www.law.wisc.edu>fjr>giving

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