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He was Named a Changemaker Halfway Around the World
Monday, March 8, 2021


The death of a Sun Valley man this weekend will be felt halfway around the world.

Bill Cassell died in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 6—just days after a Nepal online publication Nepalism.com honored him as a “Nepalese Changemaker” for his 47 years helping the country as honorary consul of Nepal.

Jeanne, his wife of 65 years, said she thought it may have been the result of complications from COVID, which both she and her husband contracted during the past couple months.

“Everything just shut down. He was having trouble breathing and swallowing,” she said. “He spent the last few days in a hospice where our son Paul and daughter Susan were able to visit him.”

Bill was gratified to be honored for his work with the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal. He had served as Nepalese consul general for 47 years through countless prime ministers. During that time, he worked closely with Sir Edmund Hillary, a New Zealand mountaineer who with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay became the first climber confirmed to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1953.

“I asked him once about his mountain climbs and then he asked me what climbs I’d done lately. All I could think of was to tell him I’d just gone up Dollar Mountain with my 4-year-old grandson,” Cassell recalled. “He scratched his head and said, ‘I don’t know that I’ve ever heard of it.’ ”

Bill’s springboard to being consul general started in graduate school at Claremont Graduate School when he helped a young Nepalese student with his homework. The student went on to get a PhD and became ambassador to the United States.

As consul general, Bill fielded a vast array of requests. One time a woman showed up at his door in Sun Valley with a Nepalese man and asked him to marry them. By the time Cassell was able to secure the paperwork, the two had broken off their engagement.

“Shortly after, I got a big box on the front porch. It was whiskey from her father with a note that said, ‘Thank you for being so inefficient,’ ” Bill recounted.

But Bill was never busier than he was after the coronavirus pandemic started. He fielded countless calls from friends and family members of those stranded in Nepal when the country closed its borders, stranding thousands of tourists.

“I don’t know how many hours I’ve put into it, but it’s a lot,” he said after learning of the honor. “I loved every moment, though. The Nepalese are a wonderful people caught between China and India with the developing first world knocking on their door.”

Born in Vallejo, Calif., Bill often recounted how his Canadian-born mother served pie for breakfast, as was tradition in the part of Canada she grew up. When he turned 8, his family was stationed in Pearl Harbor where his father served in the U.S. Navy.

As such, they were eyewitnesses to the Japanese attack the morning of Dec. 7, 1941. They were eating a breakfast of papaya when they began hearing the explosions. The father of one of Bill’s classmates was killed.

“We couldn’t figure out why they were doing maneuvers on a Sunday morning,” said Bill, who ran back in the house after a bomb fell a block from his home.

The island quickly became plagued with rumors, including one that the Japanese had poisoned the water supply.

“My mother sat up all night with my Dad’s .22-caliber rifle on her lap because there was a rumor the Japanese had invaded the island,” he recalled.

Year later Bill had the opportunity to meet Christopher Harame, whose USS Detroit ended up escorting a ship carrying Bill, his mother, two Chinese pandas and other survivors back to the States.

“Every morning I would run up on deck to see if the Detroit was still there. I knew if it was, we’d be safe,” Bill told Harame, the father of Ketchum resident Lynn Flickinger. “Thanks for taking care of me.”

While attending Pomona College in California, Bill worked in Yosemite National Park for five summers where he met his wife Jeanne. 

He served in the U.S. Army in Germany where he survived a two-person airplane crash that killed the pilot while on maneuvers near Wurzburg, Germany. An American medical officer in a column of NATO tanks going up the road saw the plane go down and was able to stabilize Bill while calling for a med evac helicopter.

Bill helped raise funds for Pomona College, Cal Tech and the University of Denver before going on to become president of the College of Idaho and of Heidelberg College, which had campuses in Ohio, Germany and Japan.

Upon retiring in 1997, he and Jeanne moved to Sun Valley. He quickly became known for his boisterous greetings and slaps on the back, whether at St. Thomas Episcopal Church or the American Legion Hall where he served a stint as commander.

When not leading a capital campaign to renovate the church, he could be found in his safari outfit, his GPS around his neck and hiking poles in his hands, as he led numerous hikes for the Idaho Conservation League.

He took followers on some difficult hikes, including the one to Window Lake in the Boulder Mountains, which has no trails leading to it, and he reveled in introducing others to “the wolf lady” Lynne Stone.

Perhaps his most memorable hikes involved miscues at the hands of new GPS technology. In one case, Bill and friends were making their way from Deer Creek to the South Fork of Warm Springs where they had parked a shuttle car when they decided the GPS was sending them down Willow Creek. They found themselves walking towards Fairfield as the first snow of the season began bearing down.

Fortunately, a hunter rescued them and took them to Timmerman Hill where a miffed wife of one of the hikers picked them up.

In another occasion they hiked the High Ridge trail along Trail Creek Road bent on exiting via Antelope Creek when a GPS “insisted” that they go right instead of left. They ended up in the Lake Creek drainage and had to call a taxi to take them back to the Trail Creek side.

Bill had to curtail his hiking a few years ago but he maintained his insatiable curiosity about the world around him, participating in a military-themed book club and recounting countless facts from “The Making of the President” series and books about Winston Churchill.

Until the pandemic shut things down, he and Jeanne kept busy watching granddaughters’ soccer games, cheering on one granddaughter as she campaigned for Kamala Harris, then Elizabeth Warren, and bragging about their grandsons’ successes.

Bill and Jeanne had just moved to Salt Lake for a couple months to be near son Paul, a former U.S. District Court judge and now a law professor, while Jeanne recovered from a shoulder surgery and broken hip. Happily, Paul and daughter Susan Snyder were able to be with their father at the hospice, even feeding him ice cream.

“He loved caramel ice cream,” said Susan. “He was always asking when Toni’s Elk Tracks were coming back.”

The family plans to have a celebration of Bill’s life this summer. Condolences may be sent to 2363 S. Foothill Drive, Salt Lake City, Utah 84109. Jeanne may be reached at 385-267-1652.



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