William Richard Gedris—that rare combination of stubborn hard worker and perfectionist that we call a craftsman—passed away Tuesday, April 25, 2023 at his home in Layton, Utah, after a long, slow slide of failing strength. He lived his final years with an unrelenting arrhythmia, which meant his heart was the only undisciplined thing about him. Never mind that in the last week he could barely walk; he daily put on his shoes, coat, and gloves, sat in a camp chair on the driveway, and shoveled snow to free his beloved RV from its wintery tomb. He worked until everything on his list was done and he could work no more.
Bill was born to Joseph John Gedris and Isabel Nellie Kazeva on September 6, 1943 in Homestead, Pennsylvania. He was the middle of three sons; predeceased by his older brother Joe, and survived by his younger brother Tom. Together they farmed 144 acres where Bill learned to care for the animals and fix the machinery. He played competitive accordion and danced on skates around the local roller rink.
His work ethic grew out of juggling farm duties and football. He rose early, milked the cows (by hand!), headed off to school, and didn’t come home until after football practice when it was time to milk the cows again. He never stopped working.
A prized quarterback from a modest family, it was his dream-come-true to accept a full-ride football scholarship to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. But his first real heartbreak came when a physical exam revealed he had been playing with a heart condition brought on by a childhood illness. The offer was rescinded. Having passed up scholarships at other universities, he was left with no means to afford college. A call from a West Point coach opened doors to an appointment—with a football scholarship—at Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in Lexington, Virginia.
Bill honed his discipline at VMI, where he carried a rifle (“without a firing pin”) for guard duties and got benched for telling the coach that his studies were more important than football. But he met his amazing wife of 56 years on an off-post blind date: the young and beautiful Carolyn Anne Barker, who survives him. The farm-boy engineer married the banker’s daughter on September 10, 1966 in Wakefield, Virginia. They later joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and were sealed in Oakland, California in 1974.
One of the last generation to master the slide rule, Bill completed his master’s degree in civil Engineering at Clemson University in May 1968, and worked for another year and a half on his PhD before accepting a teaching position back at VMI. There he was Major Gedris (in the Virginia Militia) and took on additional responsibilities as a TAC (Tactical) Officer. Realizing he wouldn’t be allowed to teach at the university level without also doing research, he left after two years. It was hard to get a private-sector job with a known heart condition, so he accepted a Trainee position with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) that took him and his young family to positions across the country and back again.
Craftsmanship is just what you expect in your neighborhood interstate bridge engineer. Bill spent his FHWA career designing and reviewing designs—structural, hydraulic, and environmental—for the interstate highway bridges that we drive daily. He held contractors to the design specs, and was known to reject entire fleets of concrete (not cement!) that didn’t meet spec. Those same exacting expectations crossed over into his family, faith, and friendships. His deepest friendships came from the wonderful men and women of FHWA.
His heart may have affected his early and late life, but it never got in the way of his years of football, tennis, or golf. Saturdays were spent working in the yard or on the house. His children, Michael (Christa), Kathy (Mark) Buxton, David (Theresa), and Susan, all dug trenches, mowed the lawn, worked on the roof, and ran receiver routes in the back yard. Family travels in a Coleman pop-up camper took us to the most beautiful National Parks around the country. Our beloved German shepherd “Muffin” joined us for our adventures around the house and further afield.
He connected with his children and grandchildren by wrestling on the living room floor. “Do you give up?... Gedrises never give up!” was an essential part of the play. Kira, Danyon, Nick, Cameron, Matthew, Amanda, Savannah, Burke, Garrett, and Tavin all got “pulverized” by Pap Pap while giggling, jumping, and climbing on his back.
Bill was at his best when teaching. His Sunday School class came to the house to write their first computer programs on our Apple IIe. In retirement, Baker Construction contracted him to teach bridge inspection courses across the country. He loved teaching and traveling, and continued until a major stroke affected his ability to communicate with precision. Deprived of the opportunity to teach, he focused on traveling, and fixated on trips around the Western U.S. with his wife and his Classic Airstream.
Bill’s discipline shines in his beautiful woodwork, which he has passed on to his generations. His children laid their own babies in his hand-crafted cradles, and Christmases often included gifts of cedar chests, candle holders, 3-D puzzle cubes, or whatever Woodworking magazine had featured earlier in the year.
That craftsmanship meant his projects took a long time and may just last forever. He took great care of his tools, always “measured twice, cut once,” and couldn’t understand those who didn’t. “If a project’s worth doing,” he would say, “it’s worth doing right the first time.” The original wooden fence around the yard featured a concrete foundation that ran 400 linear feet; it lasted more than 30 years. In that vein, he also leaves behind a strong, close, well-reared family, built to last into the eternities.
The family extends a collective “Thank you!” to the nurses at Aspire Hospice who have guided us all through this last year of Dad’s decline. Your grace in the face of his stubbornness taught us all how to respond with more kindness in those moments when his reality didn’t match ours, and when his words just wouldn’t come with the exactness that embodied his life.
In lieu of flowers, please consider supporting your favorite charity just a little bit more.
A celebration of Bill’s life will be held on Saturday, May 13, 2023 at 11:00 a.m. at the Lindquist’s Layton Mortuary, 1867 N. Fairfield Rd., Layton, Utah. Friends may visit with family from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. prior to the service at the mortuary.
Bill will, as always, be there early and waiting on everyone else, but come as you please and dress comfortably. This is not formal, and we will just be grateful to see you there.
Services will be live-streamed and may be viewed by scrolling to the bottom of William's obituary page at www.lindquistmortuary.com