Bill Nagel – May 31st, 1950 – August 16th, 2022
“And in the end it is not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years.” Abraham Lincoln, who was so admired and often quoted by Bill, said that. In recent years, Bill has been questioning and struggling with how to pass on the meaning of his life, his legacy. He really wanted to get to write his life story, but it was so hard with the impact of Parkinson’s Disease and his cognitive struggles. Bill had started expressing regret to Robin and Sam that he was gone for so much of their childhood at work and missed out on their lives, even though they experienced him as so present, showing up for everything. Even with all of the mental and physical challenges of recent years, the many falls and wounds, this loss is so sudden, shocking and sad and the hole left by Bill Nagel is only just beginning to be felt. He did not get to write down his legacy, his ethical will, his life’s story, so it is up to us to tell that story for him now, giving meaning to the life in his years, more than the 72 years in his life. How do we begin to tell the story of this strong, conscientious, meticulous, ethical, caring, analytical, thoughtful, shy, athletic lover of nature and people? Where do we begin? At the beginning.
William Fraser Nagel was born in Trenton, New Jersey on May 31st, 1950 to William George Nagel and Ethel Marion Forder-Jones Nagel. The youngest of three brothers, Bill was originally named James and his parents soon learned that the boy’s grandfather was upset that none of the sons had the name William, so his name was changed to William Fraser (named after their father’s mentor in social work and a reformer in Pennsylvania Prison Society, Albert Fraser).
Bill’s brothers Jack and Bob speak of a childhood with a lot of reading, discussions, heaps of their mother’s fresh baked cookies and so much time spent outside, including the amazing family trip to their mother’s native Australia when Bill was 5 or 6 and they learned to ride horses in central Queensland. Bob remembers looking back and seeing his baby brother jumping and bobbing up and down furiously and somehow miraculously staying on the horse. Bill still talked about that trip of his childhood when my mother and I had tea with him and Joanie back in April. Bill was always very sociable and Bob sort of resented him because he got really good grades in school and yet he was always out with his friends. In Junior High and High School – he would sit there studying next to the phone waiting for it to ring and then jump up and go out and go see his friends. He was in the school basketball team, played baseball, was a big star in middle school and always popular with the girls.
They moved around a lot in those early years from Trenton and Tom’s River, NJ, Charleston, West Virginia, outside of Harrisberg, PA. Bill followed his brothers to Swarthmore College, where he studied history and even though he wasn’t so positive about his choice of college, much of his political awareness and influence came from Swarthmore and he always gave money to his alma mater. After college he worked in Pennsylvania as a parole and probation officer, and was greatly influenced by his dad in this work. Bill was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War and had interesting dialogue with his father, a patriotic WW2 vet. They studied history together and Bill’s father eventually arrived at the conclusion that the war was wrong. Bill and his brothers were always proud of their dad.
Bill applied to law school after realizing that probation work was not his life’s career and could also be pretty dangerous. He wanted to be out west in the mountains, which he loved.
He got into Louis and Clark in Portland, Oregon and was on the waiting list at CU Boulder. He drove west to Oregon to start school with Gannet, his first Bernese Mountain Dog (he has never been without one since and Sadie is sad and misses him). The car broke down in Limon, CO and Bob and Pru, who were already out here, got a call that Bill was being offered a place at CU Law School, and when he called them to say that he had broken down in Colorado, they told him the news and he took the place and never made it to Portland!
Joanie and her friend Leslie were organizing all kinds of sports teams at the law school and they heard that Bob’s younger brother was there and invited him to be on the volleyball team. Joanie and Bill met in 1977 and got together in 1978. They were married five years later in March 1983 and the professional, family and outdoor adventures began. Bill was clerking for the Boulder County Attorney’s Office and was offered a job, then went to the DA’s office, then back to the County. He declined being made County Attorney, wanting to spend time with family and went back to the DA’s office where Joanie was already working and “in spite of her working there” he was offered the job as an Appellate Deputy. He was in private practice for four years, but not a big money maker for a corporate law firm, talking potential clients out of taking their business, and he went back into public service where he was highly respected and had great intelligence and integrity as the brains behind appeals and state wide legislation for all kinds of things, including elder abuse. Bill always wanted to be a judge, but for various reasons, that did not work out, but he was voted Prosecutor of the Year one year. After retirement, Bill was a long term care ombudsman and adjunct faculty at CU Law School teaching classes in criminal procedures, legal ethics and elder law. He also volunteered with Indian Peaks Wilderness Alliance, which he loved, patrolling with his dog in the wilderness. It was on these hikes that he started having falls and episodes, which was the beginning of his health challenges later diagnosed as Parkinsons.
Bill managed the Nagel softball team with 5 Nagels, coached soccer and never missed any of the kid’s games and later the shows that Sam was in, where Bill would insist on seeing all of the performances in a run! Bill introduced the whole family to hiking, backpacking, camping, skiing, tennis, basketball, all of which were huge parts of family life. Joanie especially remembers the Four Pass Loop in Southern Colorado with llamas and the trip to Mont Blanc, as well as travel to Cuba, Russia, Kenya and Tanzania and two visits to Israel. I was with Bill and Joan on our community trip to Israel in 2005 and I have strong memories of Bill’s gentle, patient, caring presence and his guiding of his dear, blind friend Dr. Bill Shoivitz. He also was the chosen partner to take Bill and Dori’s six year old daughter Ellie down a zipline!
Sam and Robin have such precious memories of the skiing, backpacking, getting out early, enjoying nature, taking care of nature and enjoying life.
Robin said “I always related to my dad a little more as we are cut very similarly.” They both have a thorough and meticulous approach to life. Bill helped her write her speech for her Bat Mitzvah on a section of the Torah about skin diseases, purity and seminal fluids, helping her find the right message through it all. He would always help her finish and edit papers helping her communicate clearly and concisely. “He didn’t push me. He shaped me,” Robin said. Bill spoke passionately from this bimah at Robin’s Bat Mitzvah about the value of education. Robin would say to people “my mum’s Jewish and my dad helps us to be Jewish.” He was always totally supportive of the family’s Jewish practice and part of this community in spite of being neither Jewish nor religious, but he was so driven by ethics and values of justice. Just in the last couple of years after the brutal killing of George Floyd, Bill was one of the original members of Bonai Shalom’s Response to Racism Committee and was avidly reading so many books on antiracism, committed to learning and growing.
Sam said “I was a bit more of a wild card. Artistic and social in different ways.” Bill was always totally supportive of everything Sam did, even if he didn’t always understand it. Bill was quiet and thoughtful much of the time, yet he would easily flow into lecture mode and, as Sam said, “I would suddenly find myself in a history lesson that I didn’t sign up for and wondered if I was supposed to be taking notes!” Bill was one hundred percent supportive when Sam came out and he gave the most incredible speech about the importance of marriage equality and same sex weddings when Sam married Will. The speech got four standing ovations! Bill always had good relationships with his sons-in-law Cole and Will. Bill was always a very caring person who would go out of his way to help people and to show up for them, whether at a hospital, a game or a show. He gave gallons and gallons of blood, loved nature and was always picking up trash.
As pappy to Willow and Sage, Bill loved watching and hearing his grandchildren and observing Robin as a parent. Tea with Pappy will always be a cherished memory. Robin said that Bill would often try to teach a broader message to his grandchildren, which was perhaps him wrestling with his legacy and the meaning of his life. There was more life in his years than years in his life, or as it says in Psalms (90:12) limnot yameinu cayn hodah v’navi l’vav hochmah – teach us to count our days rightly so that we may obtain a wise heart. Making our days count, rather than counting our days. Bill did that and his heart was wise and will continue to inspire those who knew him.
Joanie said he loved to hike so much and there were so many hikes left to hike. So it is up to us to keep walking in his path.
Comfort and strength to Bill’s wife of 39 years, Joanie, who has been devoted to his care, to Robin and Sam and their spouses Cole and Will, grandchildren Willow and Sage, Bill’s brothers Bob and Jack and and their wives Pru and Barbara, to all the nieces, nephews and great nieces and nephews and to Bill’s many friends.
The family will have visitation hours for shiva calls at the Nagel’s home 711 Iris Avenue, Boulder, CO. 80304 at the following times:
Monday 22nd – 1-5.30pm, with a short minyan and kaddish at 5pm
Tuesday 23rd – 4-8pm, with some sharing and kaddish for the family at 6.30pm
If you would like to donate to tzedakah in Bill’s memory, please direct your donations to the Davis Phinney Foundation or a charity of your choice.
May Bill be remembered for a blessing always.