Saying Goodbye to Our Friend Bill Coperthwaite

Sometimes saying goodbye can be a journey of its own.

| June 2015

Bill Coperthwaite inspired many by living close to nature and in opposition to contemporary society, and was often compared to Henry David Thoreau. A Man Apart, by Peter Forbes and Helen Whybrow, is the story of their friendship with Coperthwaite, whose unusual life and fierce Ideals helped them examine and understand their own. This excerpt is from Chapter 1, "The Last Journey."

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Because I could not stop for Death
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.
— Emily Dickinson

William Coperthwaite died on November 26, 2013, two days before Thanksgiving. He was driving southwest from his home in Machiasport, Maine, toward Brunswick, to spend the holiday as he always did with his surrogate family, Julie and Tom, their children, and Julie’s mother Sonni, who had been a friend of Bill’s since his college days in the early 1950s. 

When Julie arrived home from work that afternoon she expected to see Bill’s car parked on the street near their house. Tom and Sonni were already home and would be there to welcome him. But instead she saw a police cruiser and found an officer waiting for her in the kitchen, her mother sitting down and pale. Bill had been found, his car totaled, along an icy roadside in Washington, Maine, some miles away. It was a single-car accident, without witness, but it appeared that he had died instantly when he spun off the road and impacted an oak tree that was forced through the driver’s side door. The roads had been slick that morning, the frozen land glazing to black ice the drizzle of the night prior.

On that dreary cold Tuesday before Thanksgiving, word went out to all those whom Bill considered family, and soon the calls and e-mails were flooding in to our farmhouse in Vermont. As one of his neighbors in Machias once said, “Bill was a hermit who loved people,” and that day after his death we were reminded how enormous his circle of friends and admirers really was. We were hosting friends and family for Thanksgiving at our farm in Vermont, but almost as soon as the meal was eaten and dishes were done, Peter and I packed up the leftover turkey and headed for Maine with our nine-year-old daughter, Wren. Our older daughter, Willow, fifteen, decided to stay home with relatives and a friend she had invited for the holiday.