William Edward “Bill” Westerbeke passed away Wednesday, August 28, 2019 at age 76. He was born February 17, 1943, in Quincy, MA the son of John H. and Ruth A. Westerbeke. Bill is survived by his brother John H. (Recilla) Westerbeke Jr. (late sister-in-law Frances Westerbeke) of Squantum, MA, sister Susan Nesbitt of Glenview, IL, nephews John (Cindy) Westerbeke of Higganum, CT, Robert (Oksana) Westerbeke of North Easton, MA, Douglas (Yu) Westerbeke of Pepper Pike, OH, Scott (Bethany) Westerbeke of Maynard, MA, Sean Nesbitt of Chicago, IL, niece Marlo (Michael) Cohen of Lawrence, KS, four great nieces and eight great nephews.
Bill (“Beke” to his friends) spent his childhood in Squantum, MA, where he graduated from North Quincy High School. He graduated from Bowdoin College (BA) in 1964, proudly having played goalie on the school’s lacrosse team, the Polar Bears. Bill spent the next two years as an Artillery Officer in the United States Army, with a deployment in West Germany. In 1968 he graduated from Middlebury College (MA) and in 1970 from the Stanford Law School (JD). The following year he clerked for United States District Judge Irving Hill, Southern District of California, after which he spent four years as a Litigation Associate at the LA law firm
O’Melveny & Myers. In the summer of 1974, he served as a Visiting Associate Professor at the KU School of Law. That academic year he was offered a full-time Associate Professorship at the School, where the following fall he began a 42-year career as one of the institution’s most valued and revered faculty members.
Beke was first and last a teacher. His Torts I class was always a pleasant, if challenging, way to begin a legal education. He rarely used notes, and once famously continued lecturing after a power-outage turned the classroom pitch dark. Among other classes, he also taught Products Liability, Antitrust, Workers Compensation and First Amendment Freedoms. For over two decades he oversaw the Moot Court Competition team, an effort that brought the School a National Championship in 1984. He taught law students abroad In Vienna, Cambridge UK and Limerick, Ireland, and undergraduates in Cambridge UK and at the Haskell Indian Nations University. Twice a year for 24 years he lectured on Torts in the Kansas Bar Review Course. And in his 42 years of all that teaching, he never missed a class.
Beke was also a prolific scholar, publishing more than thirty articles, many of which focused on either Kansas tort law or product liability. He
offered at least as many professional public presentations, the first in 1976 and the last in 2017. Practicing lawyers throughout the State and region relied on his writings and presentations, and his phone rang frequently from individuals (often former students) and law firms seeking his advice or judgment. He wrote bar examination questions for several states and testified in the Kansas Legislature on tort-related topics. His service roles for the State, University, and Law School cover two full pages in his CV, and his ten-year membership on the Board of Directors of the Lawrence Humane Society played an important role in its development.
Beke earned many honors and awards in recognition of his professional accomplishments: the Fredrick J. Moreau award for Student Advising and Counseling; the Howard and Sue Immel Award for Teaching; the Dean James Green Fellowship Award; the Robert A. Schroeder Teaching Fellowship; and the (University-wide) Kemper Award for Teaching Excellence.
Beyond all the impressive facts, however, Bill (Beke), or to many faculty members’ children, “Uncle Bill,” will be remembered most fondly for his inherent decency, his unwavering pursuit of the truth, his dedication to community service, and his willingness to stop whatever he
was doing at the time to offer assistance and a kind word to a student, colleague, member of the bar, or just someone who needed help. In the end he was everybody’s friend and every kid’s Uncle Bill. To his family and friends Bill was kind, loyal, generous and forever entertaining with a quick wit and the love of a good story.
A celebration of Bill’s life is pending.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a memorial donation to the William Westerbeke Scholarship at Kansas University, Misericordia Home, or Lawrence Humane Society, sent in care to Rumsey-Yost Funeral Home, 601 Indiana St, Lawrence, KS 66044.