Home Obituaries Obituary: Ben Williams, July 11, 1955 – Oct. 21, 2023

Obituary: Ben Williams, July 11, 1955 – Oct. 21, 2023

Born July 11, 1955, Ben was the fourth child of Lorna MacMillian (a social worker) and Irving Williams (an English teacher). Raised in Mt. Kisco, N.Y., Ben spent his summers on Prince Edward Island at his mother’s family’s farm. Family lore says he received his first bird book before he could read, inspiring a life-long love of birds and books. Ben’s gap year before college took him touring the U.S. with Trailside, a traveling school where he discovered another passion, student-centered self-directed education. This would be his life work; helping students to find their passions and follow them. He attended Hobart and William Smith Colleges (bachelor of arts), Lesley College (master of arts), and finally completed a doctorate in education from the Harvard School of Education. Ben saw every experience as an opportunity to teach and equally an opportunity to learn. He never hesitated to give those around him his full attention.

Conversation, storytelling, music, and humor were the food for his soul, allowing him to create community and a sense of place no matter where he was.

Ben surrounded himself with books on every subject possible: geology, anthropology, history, carpentry, solar systems, log house construction, and engine repair. He would learn whatever new skills were needed to repair a clothes dryer or install a new water heater and hunt the used stores to find the parts.

Ben married his wife, Libby Case, in 1988 in Maine, and together they built a log house, taught with the Audubon Expedition Institute, and raised two daughters, who were the joy and pride of his life. After 13 years of teaching on the road, he returned to graduate school where he explored the theoretical side of placed-based learning. After graduation, the family settled in Woodbury, Vt., and Ben began teaching at Goddard College. Ben chaired the local school board, volunteered at his children’s schools, and worked at Goddard College and Union Institute and University. After his retirement, he devoted himself to house projects; volunteer work, including chairing the board of UP for Learning; flood and hurricane relief efforts; and writing. At home in the natural world, Ben shared his love of birding and nature by taking family and friends to the Southwest every spring for the last few years.

On Oct. 21, 2023, Ben suffered a sudden, fatal heart attack. Although he died too early for those who love him, he had finished his work here on earth. He will be dearly missed by everyone who knew him and whose lives he touched.

Ben is survived by those he was most devoted to: His wife Libby, (Woodbury, Vt.); his daughter Amelia, her husband Graham Edmondson, and their children Sylvia and Leo (Wakefield, Mass.); his daughter Anna and her partner Cal Simko (Lubec, Me.); his brother James Williams, and wife Clare Minnick (Mountainside, N.J.); his sister Ann Williams (Prince Edward Island, Canada); his brother David Williams (San Francisco, Calif.); and his loving nieces and nephews, students, colleagues, and friends.

A memorial for Ben will be held next spring on Memorial Day weekend here in Vermont. Donations may be made in Ben’s honor to help protect a place he loved: Downeast Coastal Conservancy, P. O. Box 760, Machias, ME 04654 or mygiving.net/donate/Donation-