Dr. William P. Alexander
Professor Emeritus, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania
Dr. William Peddie Alexander, 90, of Edinboro, PA died April 25, 2018. He was known by his friends as Bill. He lived a full life, a life of which he can justifiably be proud. He focused on the great loves of his life, which were his wife Mary, composing in his own unique style, developing the music department at Edinboro University, and working on his flower gardens. He designed the house he had built in 1962, and maintained a beautiful grassless garden yard for many years.
Bill was born in Santa Barbara County, California, parented by William P. Alexander Sr. and Anna Louise (Kehrer). He has said that he was born on a ranch. He lived his early childhood in the town of Santa Maria, then Lompoc, both in the same county. He had a sister, Beverly Ann, two years younger, who is now deceased. He is of Scottish ancestry, and Bill was very proud of this heritage. He and his wife Mary travelled to Scotland several times.
Bill’s father worked for the Bodger Seed Company in Lompoc, California. Growing up surrounded by acres of flowers, Bill developed an intense love of gardening which he maintained throughout his life, as evidenced by the beautiful landscaping around his contemporary home. Crediting the excellent music program in the Lompoc school system, Bill developed an early interest in listening and performing music. He graduated Lompoc High School in 1945, where he was active in musical and scholarship activities. While there he started his career as a composer and musician by writing compositions for the band and friends. Late in World War II, the Army became interested in him because of his strong mathematical skills (not unusual for a musician) and he was trained as an engineer. Circumstances changed, however, and he went to college, playing clarinet in bands, dance bands and small jazz groups, notably a group he led called the Kingsmen.
Bill’s first marriage was in 1949 to Charlotte Livermore, in her hometown of Shelbina, Missouri. Bill then worked a few years as a band and music instructor at a high school in Bayard, New Mexico, before completing his post-graduate education. Their union produced a son, Robert Bruce, and a daughter, Marilyn Margaret (McNamara). Nine descendants can call him Grandad. Robert had Hershel, Jesse, Robert and Ethan. Marilyn had Margaret, Sarah, Shamus, Daniel and Tim.
Bill’s second marriage was in 1959 to Mary Alice Brown, of Bridgeport, West Virginia. Bill’s marriage with Mary lasted until her death in 2011. Mary was a great hostess, important to Bill with her help in the area of social activities at their house. They loved to travel and have journeyed around the world on numerous trips. Mary also had an active work life, having received her M.Ed. in 1965 from Edinboro University and having taught first grade in the Crawford Central School District for 24 years. Bill missed her very much.
Bill completed his bachelor’s degree at Central Missouri College in 1949, majoring in music. He earned his M.A. in 1951 and his Ed.D. in 1957 from the School of Music, Peabody College of Vanderbilt University. In graduate school, he was a student of Roy Harris, then composer in residence, and contemporary of Aaron Copland.
Bill began his academic career at Shepherd College, in West Virginia, as assistant professor of music and art. He joined Edinboro University in January 1962 and retired in January 1986 after 24 years of dedicated service. While at Edinboro, he was professor of music history and composition and organized the first cultural series. He served two terms on the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts and was a member of the Erie Philharmonic board. He was a member of several evaluation teams for public and private colleges. He was a member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, the American Music Center, and the Nature Conservancy.
Under the presidency of Chester T. McNerney, the Edinboro University music department grew substantially, as did the cultural series Bill started in the early 1960s. By the end of the decade, the music department was offering B.A., B.S., and M.Ed. degrees.
Bill’s final act was to give all that he had to Edinboro University. The university expressed gratitude, stating: As founder and chair of and ultimately Professor Emeritus of the Edinboro University of Pennsylvania Music Department, music history and composition, Dr. William P. Alexander and his spouse Mary A. Alexander (M.Ed. ’65) have established a permanent endowment for a music series performed by professional symphony orchestras, including the Erie Philharmonic, chamber ensembles, and opera companies. As a recognized and gifted composer, one concert each year will feature a composition by Dr. Alexander for this minimum two-concert series presented on the campus of Edinboro University.
After retiring from the university, Bill maintained social ties with his fellow faculty, especially by eating lunch regularly together on the campus. He helped outfit the marching band with appropriate Scottish gear for Edinboro football games, which he loved to attend. He also enjoyed watching college football on television. Until the last few years, he spent much of his time in retirement writing new works for both orchestra and small ensembles. In the last few years, when his health waned, he had to end his energetic walks around the campus. He became less mobile and required assistance. The family is grateful for the services of Leslie Oster, who lived with Bill during his final two years, and made his life more enjoyable.
Bill’s compositions have been performed by numerous university performers in addition to such professionals as the Huntingdon Trio, Pittsburg Symphony, Estria Wind Quintet, Musica Nova, Erie Philharmonic, York Symphony, Orchestra Society of Philadelphia, Cambridge Trio, US Navy, Army and Air Force Bands. His main joy was that his compositions have been played and enjoyed by national and international audiences. He never waivered in his love for the University arts program. In fact, he asked to have his final wishes remembered: “I hope Edinboro survives and thrives, and I hope they reinstate the music major.”
Family and friends are invited to attend a memorial gathering in the William Alexander Music Building Atrium at Edinboro University the afternoon of Friday June 29th from 3:30 to 5:00 p.m. Memorial gifts may be made to the William and Mary Alexander Music Fund and can be sent to Edinboro University Advancement, 210 Meadville Street, Edinboro, PA 16444