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William "Bill" I. Gardner
December 25, 1928 - November 29, 2014


William "Bill" I. Gardner
Dec 25, 1928 - Nov 29, 2014

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William I. (Bill) Gardner, age 85, of Madison, passed away peacefully on Saturday, November 29, 2014, after an inspiring fight against a long series of illnesses.

Bill, fondly known as Bud to family, was born on Christmas Day, 1928, to Clifton and Rillah Gardner, in Meridian, Mississippi, where he was raised. Bill was the first member of his family to attend college, at the University of Mississippi (AKA Ole Miss), where he met his future wife, Bobbie Ruth McLaurin; they were married on June 4, 1950. Bill left school temporarily to serve as a Master Sargent in the Army National Guard in the office of The Adjutant General from 1950-1952. Bill then went on to earn a BA and a MA in Psychology from the University of Mississippi; he then received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Vanderbilt University (George Peabody College) in 1958.

Bill began his career as a professor in the field of clinical psychology at the University of Mississippi, where he stayed from 1958 - 1965. During this time he moved temporarily to Washington, D.C., where he proudly served in 1962 on the President's Panel on Mental Retardation, created by President John F. Kennedy. In 1965, Bill moved his family to Madison, WI to serve as a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education. He spent the remainder of his academic career at the UW, where he held various administrative and leadership roles and positions, including Chairperson of the Department of Psychology and the Waisman Center. He retired from active academia in 1996, as a Professor Emeritus of the Rehabilitation Psychology Program.

Bill contributed prolifically to the field of intellectual and developmental disabilities. In addition to teaching at the graduate level, he was involved extensively in important research projects, clinical consultations and direct services. He delivered over 200 professional presentations and seminars/workshops throughout the US and Europe. He authored over 140 publications, including several textbooks that are still referenced today. He served on numerous professional boards and panels, and most recently served as an expert in legal actions filed by the Civil Rights Division of the US Dept. of Justice. Bill is well known for developing a multimodal diagnostic assessment model as well as diagnostically-based treatments in IDD, and his work has been internationally accepted and is considered the "gold standard" of assessment and treatment practices. Earlier this year he received the Earl L. Loschen Award for Clinical Practice, as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association of Developmental Disabilities (NADD), in recognition for his enormous influence in the field. These are only 2 of the many prestigious awards he received in life.

Bill was an avid athlete, starting in college when he won a Golden Gloves boxing Championship. He loved to run and bike and participated in marathons and triathlons. He was an amateur photographer, gardener, cook, golfer, and was an enthusiastic harmonica player. He loved football (Go Packers and Badgers!), Madison, and he bought cartloads of produce at the Dane County Farmer's Market. Bill loved worldwide travel, and later in life he and Bobbie acquired a little piece of Sanibel Island in Florida, where he happily fed seagulls and picked up seashells.

More than anything else, Bill unconditionally loved and cherished his family and friends, who in turn loved him back with much devotion. He was a mentor and a cheerleader. He was kind, quirky, flawed, sweet, tireless, creative, supportive, absentminded, silly, charismatic, and his greatest joy came from helping other people. People all over the world will miss and remember him with great fondness, especially his wife and children, who are heartbroken at his passing. As one of his colleagues wrote upon hearing of his passing, "There are some losses that leave an emptiness in the universe, a blank space on any page written from this point onward, and an aching that surpasses words. This is such a loss."

Bill is preceded in death by his father, mother, two sisters, brother, and father and mother in law. He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Bobbie Ruth, and his children Nan, Steve (Kathy) and Becky, all of Madison, as well as numerous cousins, nieces and nephews in Mississippi, Texas, and Florida. He also leaves a score of bereaved friends and colleagues.

The family wishes to thank Bob Kalhagen and Mike Duckwitz for their care and companionship to Bill during the past three years of his life. It wouldn't have been possible for Bill to remain in his beloved home for as long as he did, without their support, and he loved them.

In lieu of flowers, Bill requested that donations be sent to NADD's Joli Fletcher Tlalka Memorial Fund, named in memory of the daughter of NADD's Founder, Robert J. Fletcher. Donations can be made online at: or may be sent to:

132 Fair Street
Kingston, NY 12401-9913

A memorial service will be held at a later date. Condolences for the family may be sent to: Cress Funeral Home, 6021 University Ave, Madison, WI, 53705


Debbie Dorfman on Dec 23, 2014

Debbie Dorfman on Dec 23, 2014

Craig and I met Bill on a cold rainy morning in November of 1998 when we picked him up from his hotel in Tacoma to serve as our expert consultant in case that we brought on behalf of individuals with intellectual disabilities and mental health needs who had gotten stuck in Washington's state hospitals. Little did we know that that day would be the beginning of what I like to think of as our big adventure with Bill and later with Bill and his friends (Joni, Rich Hunter, and others) that continued until the end of his life and continues in our hearts. It was because of Bill that we learned how to make meaningful and lasting system change for people with IDD. We are forever grateful to him for all of his mentoring, support and hard work and advocacy that made it possible to improve the lives of individuals with IDD.
In addition to being our mentor and expert consultant, Bill was our dear dear friend. Every time we saw him he would great us with a huge smile and say "hey hey". We were so lucky to share so many wonderful times with him. One of my favorites was when saw us in Los Angeles and met our dog, a West Highland Terrier, named Carmine. When they met, it was love at first sight! It was hard to get Bill to put Carmine down.
Craig, Carmine and I will miss Bill more than words could possibly express.
Bill-we love you so much and are sending you a "hey hey"! Keep the smile!
Debbie, Craig & Carmine

David Kludt on Dec 10, 2014

Dr. Gardner served as a Federal Court Monitor here in the State of Washington where I work. In my role for the State Mental Health Division I had the pleasure of spending considerable time with Dr. Gardner. His role was that of a monitor but his true role for us was that of a teacher and educator who inspired us rather than focusing on our shortcomings. My favorite memories were our lunches together at a quaint resturant in the tiny town of Steilacoom Washington where Dr. Gardner always enjoyed what he described as the "finest chocolate malt" in the land. His contributions to the State of Washington and the individuals we serve are a small part of his legacy and will always be present..

Bob Kalhagen on Dec 9, 2014

I had only known Bill for 3 years, but that was long enough to know him to be a special individual. He loved his garden, and during healthier times he spent hours making sure all his plants looked the best they could. He also enjoyed bird watching, and had several feeders in his yard that were always full. A pair of binoculars were right next to the window for those close-up views, with a reference book to help identify a bird if needed. Due to his health he could not get out of the house as much as he would have liked. One thing he especially missed was being able to drive around the UW campus, so this year on a beautiful spring day we drove all over the campus and then enjoyed an orange smoothie at Dairy Queen. It was easy to see why he had such an impact on others. Bill became a very close friend of mine and I will miss his humor, wit and positive attitude.

Marylee and Dan on Dec 9, 2014

We received so much enjoyment working with Bill in his beautiful gardens. His springtime enthusiasm was contagious as we went about our yearly planning of the flower plantings. He would never fail to remind us how he liked "lots of color". Bill had the ability to bring beautiful color to the areas of the garden with the deepest shade. He will be greatly missed, but we carry many fond memories of working with Bill and his wonderful family.

Marylee and Dan

JP Whalen, PhD, LP, CRC on Dec 9, 2014

What can I say that hasn't been said? He was a friend and a mentor. He instinctively knew when someone needed help and offered that assistance with no expectation of repayment. He was a true gentleman and friend. I was fortunate to chat with him in mid November. He was always there for me. When he and Bobbie went to Sanibel Island he asked me to house sit and care for Bobbie's orchids. I will never forget the phone call I had to make and had to say "I have good news and bad news, which would you like first?" He said the good news, and I told him, "Your house didn't burn down, and the bad news was there was a fire in the Master Bath." I explained what happened and he said he had a Wasp nest in the attic the previous summer and he put rags in the recessed lighting to keep them out of the house. When I turned the lights on in the bathroom they ignited the rags, and the rest, as they say, is history. He took the blame and assured me it was okay. He allowed me to co-author some material for one of his many books. He always found a job for me to do, like painting Becky's house! He gave me confidence in myself in such a gentle way. I will miss him but I will be ever grateful to have known him. Keep the Smile!

Joe Perron on Dec 9, 2014

Dr. Gardner made a difference in the lives of so many people. I was privileged to share in his path at the university, at Bethesda, and at Horizons Unlimited. He was a great mentor and will be missed.

joni on Dec 8, 2014

Bill and iI have known each other since the late 1980's. One of my fondest memories was sharing a good meal together when we worked in Washington state. He loved a particular sea bass dish that we ordered at the same restaurant at every visit to Tacoma. Each time he took his first bite, he smiled that Bill Gardner smile with delight in his eyes and remarked how delicious it was, as if it were the first time he had ever eaten it. Bill had a wonderful knack of re-experiencing something positive as if it were the first time. Bill loved to Bike, loved Van Gogh, and was dedicated to humanity in a way that was quite unique. I am so glad I had the opportunity to know him. He also loved music. He played a groovy harmonica and I have a wonderful memory of playing my guitar and singing while he played harmonica. Keith and I send warm regards to you all. Bill always closed his emails with "Keep the smile" and my memories of him will do that for me.

Jill Niesen on Dec 8, 2014

I worked with Bill at Bethesda Lutheran home where he became my mentor and he later became my advisor for my master's degree. He never had a cruel word to say about anyone. He would come at a problem from various perspectives. I learned so much from him. I would see him over the years at various conferences and it was like we just saw each other yesterday. Though I have not seen him in a few years due to my not being able to attend these conferences the news of his passing has left a mark on my soul. I hope that those he has mentored can go on to help others has he would have done. My condolences to his family and all those he considered as family.

Deb Richards and Family on Dec 8, 2014

Along with my family, we were very sad to hear of Bill's passing. He was indeed a special man, a gentleman in the true sense of the word. There was never a Christmas or birthday that Bill didn't remember either through a card or a phone call. Bill was one of those people that always took a genuine interest in others lives. When my twin boys struggled in school and then would eventually graduate he couldn't wait to organize a celebration dinner for them on one of his visits to Niagara in Canada. He said they needed to know that they did well and a dinner it would be. Thoughtfulness always.

One of my many memories of Bill was a day on the golf course. A golf ball came inches from hitting me on the head from a nearby golfer. When the golfer arrived at his ball, in that very slow southern accent, Bill quietly but firmly said, "Next time you may want to yell FORE?" He needed him to know that he should do better next time. We then moved on to the next hole and had a great golf day.

When I met Bill many years ago, I was in awe. This was the person who set the "gold standard" in the developmental service sector. We used this approach and knew it worked. We would become instant friends and would have many clinical conversations over the years. Bill always made me think harder, look at different angles, challenge me, and evaluate so that I would come to the best conclusion. He was a mentor, a teacher, a great listener, and a wonderful friend. He made me a better clinician. I am so grateful he came into my life.

When Bill became ill, we would have regular phone conversations and he remained positive throughout even on those days he really wasn't feeling well. I will miss those conversations dearly. His kindness and thoughtfulness are qualities I will remember always. Thank you to the Gardner family for sharing an extraordinary man to so many of us. He made the world a little better place.

Kathleen Gardner on Dec 7, 2014

I will miss my Father In Law. He was a great Roll Model. He was always there for his Family. Dad always made sure we had the best Christmas . It was always one to remember. Perhaps they are not the stars, But rather openings in Heaven, where the love of our lost one pours through and shines down upon us to let us know their souls are at peace. Angels be with you Dad.

Jalal Haj Hussien on Dec 7, 2014

I came from Jordan to study at UW Madison because of Dr.Gardner in 1988 after reading many of his articles. Since that day he became a huge influence in my professional and personal life. We stayed in touch up until the last day of his life, his intelligence and honor never leaving him. I was very lucky to have had not only the opportunity to study under Dr.Gardner but to call him a close friend. He taught me many life lessons, lessons I will take with me until the end of my own life, I am forever grateful for him. He will be missed.

Dave West on Dec 7, 2014

I am so sorry to hear of Bill's passing. He was my mentor for 10 years and a good friend. He gave me the time and guidance I needed to grow into psychology and gain an understanding of the issues facing people with intellectual disability. Without his support I would have been like a ship without a rudder in some very difficult seas. He and Bobbie even opened their house up to my staff and I for barbeques so we could experience each other in a more positive environment. Something I will never forget. He was a real gentle man and I will miss him.

Nan on Dec 7, 2014

Becky Gardner on Dec 7, 2014

Becky Gardner on Dec 6, 2014

Rich Hunter on Dec 6, 2014

Dear Bobbie, Nan, Steve, and Becky,

I was so sorry to learn my dear mentor, colleague, co-author, co-presenter, and cherished friend passed away. He was a true fighter, and although very sad about his recent physical setbacks, always held out hope for participating with us on our latest consultation.

Bill devoted his life to improving outcomes for people with ID and co-occurring mental and behavioral challenges. His innovative multimodal, functional, approach to assessment, case formulation, and treatment has improved the life of countless people, inspired many professionals (including me), and set the direction for reforms well into the future. He truly was an inspirational leader and champion for people with behavioral challenges throughout his entire professional life.

I am deeply grateful for the time I spent with Bill over the years, the many conversations we had about treatment strategies and especially the experiences and war stories about our various state reform efforts.

I share in your deep loss and will miss him dearly.

Bobbie, you, and your family shared Bill with the world for many years. With your support, Bill made it a better place for more people than we will ever know, both now and in the future. I hope you, Nan, Steve, and Becky will be reminded of that during your sad moments and gather strength from knowing his life made a difference for so many.

Rich Hunter

Rich Hunter on Dec 6, 2014

Paul Fedoroff, MD, FRCPC on Dec 6, 2014

I knew and respected Bill due to our shared interests in the assessment and treatment of people with intellectual disabilities. I second all the kind comments in his beautiful posted obituary except the adjective "flawed". As he would say, "depends on your perspective". Please accept my sincere condolences.

Nan on Dec 6, 2014

Becky Gardner on Dec 6, 2014

CandleTo all that visit, we would love to hear your memories and see your photos of our Dad/husband. He was a vibrant man who lived life fully every day, and he had so many friends that he loved.

The family will continue to add photos and memories, so please visit again.

Take care, and as Dad often said, Keep the Smile!

Bobbie, Nan, Steve and Becky Gardner

Steve Gardner on Dec 5, 2014

I would like to share a memory that Mom reminded me of not to long ago. As you will notice in Dad's obituary Sunday that he was a Golden Glove Champion in the late 1940's, undefeated I might add. However he was knocked out once but still won the fight. The first date Mom had with Dad, she went to one of his fights. As Dad and his opponent met to touch gloves at center ring before the fight his opponent hit dad in the nose and knocked him out cold! Mom spent the rest of their date in the emergency room. Please send in more memories, happy or sad, we would enjoy to hear them all.

Nan Gardner on Dec 5, 2014

Becky on Dec 5, 2014

Ruth Lynch on Dec 4, 2014

I wish to share my wishes for comfort to Bill's family. I was a fellow faculty member with Bill at UW-Madison and I have many good memories of Bill from those years. He was a valued colleague in the Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education. Bill treated new faculty like myself with welcoming support and a listening ear and I appreciated that. Over the years, he invested a great deal of time and energy into the department and our students. May you find comfort in good memories.



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