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Remembering Bill Cordray

By Lydia Kelley

CWS faculty member Lydia Kelley remembers longtime CWS teacher Bill Cordray who passed away in December.

This past holiday, along with celebration and merrymaking, our greater CWS community experienced some hard losses.

A particularly hard loss for me was that of a friend, former colleague, teacher of my children, and teacher of mine — Mr. Bill Cordray. Bill was a talented artist, devoted teacher, and compassionate human being.

Bill came to our school, like many of us, through his dear daughter, Emily Gray Cordray, when she was but a few years old. I recall him telling me that he fell in love with the calm beauty he experienced in his daughter’s classroom, and he quickly found ways to volunteer. He worked with and learned from many teachers in the early childhood program, among them Marcia Hendricks, Leslie Poindexter, Eileen Frechette, and, later, Susan Gilbert and Valerie DuBay.

In the early years, Bill was known as the “Nap King.” Another family referred to him as “Saint Bill.” This family had a son with developmental challenges who could not climb stairs. The school had to get special permission from the fire department for their son to attend as long as someone would carry him from the classroom out to the playground and back multiple times per day. Every day, rain or shine, Bill carried this child.

Bill’s daughter attended CWS during the earliest years of the CWS grade school (CWS had its first grade one class from 1987-88). Realizing the need for solid and committed grade school teachers, Bill completed his degree in education from the College of Mt. St. Joe. I first knew him in these years, and he was an incredibly patient mentor and colleague and friend to me as I began my own teaching career.

Bill began by taking a first grade for a 3 year loop. He led his second class through their eighth grade year, then cycled back with a new class for a third time. Our family was so privileged to have Bill as the teacher for our son, Ezra's, class, and I was delighted to get the chance to know Bill in this role. When I read Ezra’s end of year reports, I knew Bill truly knew my child and saw him clearly — for all of his wonderful qualities, as well as his mischievousness, and his unique struggles.

Throughout, Bill was devoted to his students. He taught (and at different points served on the Board of Trustees, the College, on numerous committees, and as Grades Chair) from the mid-80s through 2017 at CWS. 

After he left the Cincinnati Waldorf School, Bill continued to teach, sharing his love of guitar with many of us. I picked up the guitar at 51, and thanks to his tutelage, I am still going strong. Bill also played professionally with his brother (and other ‘brothers’) in the always amazing Larry Cerveza and the Comanches band.

Bill had a fabulous sense of humor and loved to laugh. He loved his family and often spoke of his growing up years and how much they had shaped him. Bill read a lot of Steiner lectures, studied with faculty, and participated in many Waldorf and artistic trainings, but he was someone who learned best through the doing and understood deeply what it meant to work on the will.

He was absolutely reverent about the Waldorf threefold picture of human development. At the same time, he could be blessedly irreverent, saw the humor in the absurd, and didn’t hesitate to nudge us when we took ourselves too seriously. He was an excellent Leo! He would have laughed at being called Saint Bill while appreciating the love and gratitude behind it.

My most recent memory of Bill is of him so full of joy, at his and Cathy’s wedding this past summer — a beautiful day in nature, surrounded by his family. I treasure it.

I suppose most of us don’t know how many lives we’ve touched, but I hope Bill had at least an inkling of his impact. So many of us, in so many arenas — Waldorf families and colleagues, rock-n-roll musicians, artists, song writers, former students — all join in celebrating Bill Cordray.

Bill, we thank you, and celebrate you. And darnit, we miss you. 

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Lydia, Thank you so much!

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