William (Bill) Oettinger Ross passed from this life into another on the morning of February 10, 2023 at the ripe old age of 91.
Bill was born in 1931 in Kinston, North Carolina, the son of Julian Wadsworth Ross and Mary Oettinger Ross, and never lost his Eastern North Carolina accent.
At only 3 years old he survived a burst appendix, which was a severe condition at the time… and ever since he felt as though he was living on borrowed time. As a teenager, he again escaped with his life when he was riding his bike and was run over by a truck, the wheels of the truck going over his bike with him underneath the truck — certainly a close call.
Bill always loved sweets. At one point his father Julian worked as the bookkeeper for an ice cream maker, which may have contributed to Bill’s not-so-secret affinity for ice cream! His mother was known for her amazing Mountain pound cake. The two made an excellent pair.
During high school he was a member of ROTC, and after college, spent two years in the Airforce. Bill completed officer training in Indiana and then went to Germany. His job was to requisition parts for airplanes to keep them flying. He often had to take multiple parts off of one plane to keep others in the air, while waiting for other parts to come in.
A graduate of NC State as a Mechanical Engineer, he specialized in heating and air conditioning. He was also a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity, and played trombone in the marching band.
His career began In Winston Salem, designing HVAC systems for textile mills. It was quite demanding, as he would need to plan heating and cooling for large spaces with machines, irons, people and more.
He also enjoyed the arts, and met Elizabeth backstage at the Little Theater when he was the set designer and she was the actress who had to fall into his arms as she jumped off the set. He married Elizabeth Larned Sproul In 1960.
Together they shared 62 adventurous years, many with students and friends, and with their three children. They traveled widely, leading students and friends to many of the art centers in the States and in Europe.
After working for a number of companies and the Mecklenburg school system he joined Central Piedmont Community College where he helped develop the HVAC department, bringing with him the contacts he had made with the ASHRAE organization. At the college, he found that he had a gift for teaching and that the students profited from his knowledge and experience.
Bill’s avocation was music, whether playing an instrument or singing. In high-school Bill played trombone in the marching band, and then continued to play in college at NC State. He also learned to play the guitar, ukulele, dulcimer, and banjo. Wherever he lived… in Winston Salem, Greensboro, or Charlotte, he was an active member of a presbyterian church choir. He left the choir at Myers Park Presbyterian when he could no longer read the words in the hymn book as he walked down the aisle. He also loved Jazz, growing up hearing it on the radio. He loved listening to jazz singers and even enjoyed jazz scat lessons at CPCC. He loved to play jazz music at home… when Elizabeth wasn’t at home!
Together Elizabeth and Bill built Airy Knoll Arts Project on Elizabeth’s family farm in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley as a multigenerational residential artist retreat and study. At first a program with the support of CPCC, Bill was instrumental in the program becoming a nonprofit organization. With numbers of students participating in the program in summer classes each year since 1998, this program has touched hundreds of students of the arts. The same night as his passing AKAP had an opening of students’ artworks.
Their home at the farm and in Charlotte was always open to those who needed a roof over their head as they were finishing school or here for an internship. They hosted visitors from all over the world, many becoming an integral part of their life.
Bill Ross started doing ancestry research around 2000, and it became a passion of his. He got into it after his mother died when he inherited photos from his family, but didn’t know who they were. What began was a passion for research and an interest in telling the stories of his early Jewish ancestors.
One of his more notable accomplishments in research was finding a Lenior County heritage book that had information about the Oettingers that was nowhere else to be found. He loved discovering new stories such as one about a steamboat disaster that killed family members. On July 30, 1871, a boiler exploded on board the Westfield, a Staten Island ferryboat, killing 125 passengers.
Bill’s last passion was card games. He was an amazingly good Bridge player, and won against his peers regularly, or anyone else that played with him. He tried to teach many others the strategy of bridge… but we were never at his level. The only game we could compete in was Cribbage. Bill didn’t like to lose!
Bill is survived by his wife Elizabeth, brother Edwin, children Rebecca Holley Ross, David Adams Ross and his fiance, Selina Kelly, Jonathan Sproul Ross and his wife Laura. His three grandchildren are Benjahmin Adams Ross, Lucas Alexander Ross, and Stella Ashlee Ross, David’s children.
A memorial service will be held at 11am on Saturday, April 15 at Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC. Another service will be held in August at Airy Knoll in Virginia for the internment of his ashes. Stories, memories, and photos of Bill can be shared in the guestbook.
Gifts can be made in Bill’s honor to Airy Knoll Arts Project (airyknollarts.org) and/or Charlotte Hospice (hpccr.org)
Bill Ross always wanted to be “Good to Life” rather then life be good to him. I think he accomplished that goal. Cheer’s to you Dad. – Jonathan