CHERRY VALLEY – William Gordon “Bill” Isaac, a Renaissance man and a beloved member of the greater Cherry Valley community, best known recently for operating the Cherry Branch Gallery, died on May 5, 2019, at his home here with his beloved partner, Willow Partington, by his side along with her children and son-in-law.
Born on May 3, 1938, in Aurora, Ill., Bill was the son of Helen and Gordon Isaac, of Downers Grove. Bill’s mother was Chippewa (Ojibway).
Bill attended Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, receiving the S.C. Johnson Award in Chemistry. He left in May 1958 without a degree, and worked as a chemist in Allied Chemical’s uranium refining plant in Metropolis, Ill., where he worked with radioactive materials. In 1960, Bill moved to New Orleans where he worked as a picture framer and began oil painting, selling his works in Pirates’ Alley and local galleries. He was drafted into the Army in 1961, and worked at Fort Detrick, Frederick, Md.. In 1963, he received an honorable discharge.
Bill studied at the University of Maryland, College Park, graduating in June 1965 with High Honors, Honors in Philosophy and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. In 1965-68, he studied at Princeton University’s PhD program in Philosophy with a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, and university fellowships. He left Princeton in 1968, and worked as an editor for medical and science books with Appleton-Century-Crofts, New York City.
In 1970, he bought a 150-acre farm in Salt Springville, and continued his employment as a free-lance editor for Little Brown, Harper & Row, and Appleton-Century-Crofts. On the farm, he raised chickens and goats. Allen Ginsberg gave him the goats.
In 1973, Bill moved into the Village of Cherry Valley, and continued working as a medical editor. In August 1974, Bill was admitted to the hospital with liver failure and pancreatitis. In December, he purchased property on Weaver Lake, eventually acquiring 60 acres of wetlands. He regained his health by what he referred to as “enforced P.T. at Weaver Lake.”
Always deeply connected to nature, Bill enjoyed his time living on the land and off the grid surrounded by an abundance of wildlife. His cabin never had running water or electricity. Although he once planned to build a house on the property, he soon realized he was comfortable with his rustic lifestyle. He has owned the property for over 45 years. He placed a Conservation Easement on the Weaver Lake property with Otsego Land Trust ensuring that this important wetland will be preserved in perpetuity.
In 1978, he was employed as an Alcoholism Counselor for Montgomery County Mental Health in Amsterdam. In 1980-1985, he was employed as Otsego County Alcoholism Services Coordinator in Oneonta. Bill developed the New York State licensed alcoholism clinic program (EAP), the STOP-DWI program, substance abuse counseling and prevention program, and received various grants. He obtained state Alcoholism Counselor Credentials (CAC) in 1983. With Betty Currier and Dr. Robert Sioussat, Bill co-founded the Leatherstocking Education on Alcoholism Foundation (LEAF), whose mission is to improve public education, particularly among youth, and to encourage safe alcohol use. This program proved that addiction is a treatable disease.
Countless people throughout New York State were able to recover from alcoholism and regain their sobriety with Bill’s assistance. When people told him their stories, Bill’s seminal question was often: Who do you believe was responsible for that decision? His work affected the lives of many all across the State of New York. It is a fact that when people became sober, the number of bars across the state diminished, particularly in small towns. A spiritually generous, caring person, over the years Bill Isaac helped many by providing counseling and countless rides to alcohol and/or drug related meetings. His was a rare light in our confused and conflicted culture.
Bill retired from the State in s000, returning to his cabin on Weaver Lake fulltime.
In January 2003, Bill held the first meeting for a proposed arts council, now known as Artworks, a not-for-profit group which hosts arts events in Cherry Valley including the Sculpture Trail, Kite Fest, and a variety of musical and other events. Over 15 years later Artworks still thrives in part due to the funding and organization Bill provided.
In March 2003, Bill rented a storefront on Main Street in Cherry Valley and began operating The Cherry Branch Gallery, showcasing the works of the many talented local artists in central New York who presented and sold their works there. In 2009, Bill bought 25 Main Street, restored the building and created a larger gallery space. This move began Bill’s foray into historic preservation. Over the next few years, he purchased other historic properties in Cherry Valley and nearby communities, two of which won preservation awards from Otsego 2000: The Cherry Branch Gallery Building and the Old Blacksmith Shop in Schuyler Lake. Both of these historic structures are currently for sale.
Shortly before his death, Bill said: “I think it is a worthy goal to leave the world a more beautiful place.” After a moment he added: “Another worthy goal is to leave the world a more ethical place.” He accomplished both.
William Isaac is survived by his beloved partner, Willow Partington of Cherry Valley, and by his sister, Martha Norman of Illinois and Florida, a niece, Mary, and four nephews, Greg, Sam, Ben and Nathan.