William "Bill" F. Porter

April 27, 1951October 23, 2020

William F. "Bill" Porter, 69, of Williamston, MI, passed away on October 23, 2020 in the loving care of De Ann, his wife of 47 years. He is survived by his mother Barbara Porter Gray of Iowa, sisters Shasha and Dede, sons Brad (Kristine) and Ben (Lea Weems), and four wonderful grandchildren: Belle, Zeke, Kirsten and June. He was predeceased by his father, Darrel Porter.

Bill held a distinguished academic career in wildlife conservation and became the first Boone and Crocket Professor of Wildlife Conservation at Michigan State University in 2010. He built a thriving graduate program at Michigan State, leading the Quantitative Wildlife Center, following 30 years as a professor at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, NY. Bill's research spanned from songbirds to moose, focusing on the challenging issues of the day. These included chronic wasting disease and tracking endangered species, such as wolves and lynx. As a graduate student, his research was pivotal in restoring wild turkeys to the Upper Midwest. The National Wild Turkey Federation recognized him with the Henry S. Mosby award; undergraduates honored him with a Distinguished Teacher Award.

Bill received his B.S. at the University of Northern Iowa and his M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota. Summers he worked at nature interpretive centers, developing a knack for explaining science to the public. While a professor at SUNY-ESF, he directed the Adirondack Ecological Center in the Huntington Wildlife Forest, raising funds for new buildings and restoring Huntington Lodge, one of the great camps of the Adirondacks. He persuaded the state of New York to invest in a multi-million dollar interpretive center in Newcomb, NY, adjacent to the Huntington Wildlife Forest, which continues to greet thousands of visitors each year.

Bill had an idyllic childhood in Cedar Falls, IA. With his friends, he built tree forts, camped, fished, and rafted along the Cedar River. He had the opportunity to join the family business, Porter's Camera Store, but decided at an early age to be a professor. His first major purchase in life was a camera, which he mounted on a gun stock with a long telephoto lens; he loved the challenge of hunting a great photograph. He adventured in Alaska in his canoe and later spent five weeks learning survival skills from NOLS.

Bill met and married his soul mate, De Ann, a fellow student at the University of Northern Iowa. They raised two sons in rural Skaneateles, NY. Always a do-it-yourselfer, Bill split his own wood, completed major home improvement projects, and maintained an enviable yard. He was a pillar of the Borodino United Methodist Church, volunteering in almost every capacity. When he and De Ann relocated to Michigan, they bought a log home with a pond in an oak forest. Bill delighted in seeing the many songbirds, deer, turkeys, and sandhill cranes. Never one for city life, he and De Ann visited 30 national parks, all 50 states, and five continents to see and photograph wildlife.

Bill poured his heart and soul into mentoring over 70 graduate students. He believed in formality and strong communication skills, and one of his sayings was, "over-promise and over-deliver." He himself went above and beyond for his students, never forgetting special occasions and earning a reputation for homemade birthday cakes. He was proud to help place his students into top conservation jobs around the country. In numerous letters received by the family, his former students remembered him as a kind, encouraging friend and an iconic mentor.

Bill took great pride in his sons' successes. His elder son Brad attended MIT, helped found a successful startup company, and rose to become head of robotics at Amazon. His younger son Ben attended Princeton and became an Associate Dean at Northwestern University. Bill adored his grandchildren, taking them on nature walks, historic train rides, and visits to museums in Chicago.

In his free time, Bill read books on leadership and American history; he especially admired Theodore Roosevelt, who established the national parks. He watched college and professional football and generally rooted for the Minnesota Vikings, the underdog, or just "a good game." He enjoyed watching Star Trek in all its many forms.

When diagnosed with bile duct cancer in 2019, Bill sought out care from Mayo Clinic where an experimental surgery extended his life by over a year. With that time, he took a trip with De Ann to Death Valley National Park, finished a tree fort with his grandchildren, and helped three final grad students complete their PhDs. He always retained his lifelong optimism, but he also left no item unchecked on his to-do list. He wrote down many of his memoirs of a life spent outdoors, including one titled, "Lost in Alaska."

Bill's family is planning a celebration of life at a future date. Several memorial gifts are being planned; please contact the family for suggestions or make a gift to the organization of your choice in Bill's memory.


William "Bill" F. Porter

have a memory or condolence to add?

Molly Good

November 11, 2020

Some of my fondest memories as a graduate student were made with both Dr. Bill Porter and his lovely wife, De Ann, on our annual with the Boone and Crockett Club. Dr. Porter always made me feel like a student of his own, instilling words of wisdom and encouraging my determination in pursuit of my graduate degree. He was kind. He was also proud; proud of the work he was involved in, but even moreso, proud of his students and collaborators in making big impacts in wildlife management and conservation. It was a privilege to know him.

Mary tate Bremigan

October 30, 2020

Bill was a congenial colleague in FW. I have happy memories of a holiday party for FW faculty and staff that Bill and De Ann hosted in their lovely home. I want to extend my deepest condolences to Bill's family and students, and hope that these memories bring you comfort.

Bob Quinn

October 29, 2020

Bill, it was an honor to work with you on a number of projects at ESF and in the Adirondacks, and to continue working with you on Boone and Crocket issues once you had moved on to Michigan State. Most of those projects had to do with raising money, not always an easy transition for someone whose main focus is academics, but you had such good humor, creativity, energy and optimism that working with you was a joy - and usually successful. Thanks for great accomplishments, great memories and your friendship Bill!

Nan Cain

October 28, 2020

I am honored to be the mom of one of those final three PhD students mentored by Dr. Bill Porter. He and De Ann were so kind to my daughter as she was so far away from home in a totally new climate. They invited her for Thanksgiving when she’d been too far to travel home her first year. I was grateful to them both and felt such relief that she had an extended family. My daughter has such fond memories and is blessed to have had the wisdom and guidance of such a great man. I’m glad to have heard so many stories about turkeys, birthday cakes, waffle parties, the cat who lived in the cabin garage, and events in addition to the academic side of her stay. They honored my daughter’s graduation with a beautiful gathering for our family. My daughter was able to assist with teaching a class and taking on some of the things that Bill needed done in order to devote attention to his family and health. She was grateful to be valued and treasures her time under his wing. He will live on through his amazing achievements and the love of the people who knew him.

Jack Liu

October 28, 2020

Before Bill joined the MSU faculty, I heard about him from a friend who had known him for decades in New York. My friend told me that we would enjoy Bill as a colleague. My friend was definitely correct! We really enjoyed Bill – and his exceptional wisdom and signature smiles. He will be deeply missed. My thoughts are with DeAnn and the rest of his family.

Andy Crosby

October 27, 2020

Bill Porter was a tremendous mentor to me and his many other graduate students, and I know I will draw inspiration from my time spent at the BCQWC for the rest of my career. Bill never forgot a significant moment in someone's life and made sure we all celebrated each other's achievements together. Now is a good time to celebrate Bill's achievements, which will live in the academic and conservation legacies he passed on through his students. Thank you for all your work Bill, and God bless.

Scott Loomis

October 27, 2020

I didn't know Bill as Dr. Porter...but as the fellow tall guy who chose to sit in the row with the most leg-room at church. He and his wonderful wife were the first people who reached out to my wife and I when we started attending . Their friendship helped seal our decision to become members. It will come as no surprise to those who knew him from the academic world that he became a mentor as I moved into leadership roles. The best people always seem to be the ones taken too soon, and Bill was one of the best in so many ways. I'll never sit in that seat again without thinking about and missing my friend.

Rich Taber

October 27, 2020

I was a Forestry Grad student at SUNY-ESF in 93-94. I took a couple classes from Bill in Wildlife Mgmt. while there. He was one of the best of the best, among many excellent professors. He made us work hard; beyond hard, and we all emerged with a much more profound knowledge of wildlife. He had a huge influence on so many of us, and contributed much to our successes in the forestry and wildlife management fields. May he RIP.

Marta Jarzyna

October 27, 2020

I was so fortunate to have Bill as my doctoral advisor. He was a wonderful mentor to me and countless others, always offering support for even the craziest of ideas but rooting you firmly in reality at the same time. His home-made birthday cakes and lab gatherings at his log house are now legendary, and made us all feel like a family. We are all so much richer for having known Bill. He will be missed.

Molly Connerton

October 27, 2020

My thoughts and prayers are with the entire family. Although, I never officially had Dr. Porter for any of my classes, I first met him when I had my first job as a work-study student at the Huntington Forest Campus. Working at Huntington was a wonderful experience and it was actually a time when I believe Dr. Porter was first starting to obtain funds to improve the Campus. It's amazing what the Campus has grown into, much due to Dr. Porter's efforts. A wonderful Professor and Researcher and he will be missed by so many.