In Memoriam: William Shields


The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution has received word of the death February 14, 2005 of William J. Shields of Seabrook, NH, at Portsmouth Regional Hospital in Portsmouth, NH. He was 93.

William "Captain Bill" Shields was born December 20, 1911 in Gloucester, MA and was considered by many one of the last of the Gloucester dorymen and a mariner of the days of "wooden ships and iron men". The son of Nova Scotia immigrants, he shipped out at age 9 on a 100-foot Gloucester fishing schooner. He lived briefly with his grandparents in Nova Scotia, sailing aboard the famed Bluenose, before returning to Gloucester to work mostly as an engineer and chief engineer aboard sailing and auxiliary sailing vessels, draggers and purse seiners. He sailed the seven seas during his 50-year marine career, meeting some interesting people along the way, including Thomas Edison in 1929 and President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933. He left fishing in the 1940s to serve as a chief petty officer in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

Bill Shields joined the Institution staff in September 1951 as chief engineer aboard the Bear, where he served for most of his career at WHOI. He worked briefly as 1st assistant engineer aboard the research vessels Atlantis, Gosnold and Crawford between 1962 and 1964 before leaving the Institution in June 1964. He was by all accounts a colorful character, known as "Whispering Willie" due to deafness from engine room noise over many years. According to family members, he earned a Carnegie Lifesaving Medal in 1952 for rescuing a New Bedford shipmate from an engine room fire aboard the Bear.

Survivors include his wife, Florence (Downs) Shields of Seabrook, NH; two sons, Arthur J. Shields of Gloucester, MA and William J. Shields Jr. of Pennsylvania; a daughter, Linda Harmon of Gloucester, MA; a stepson, Charles McLaughlin of Seabrook, NH; five stepdaughters, Lois Toleman of Fort Myers, FL, Joanna McLaughlin of Seabrook, NH, Norma Dewhurst of Pittsboro, NC, Patricia Perkins of Bradenton, FL, and Pamela Hutchinson of Ligonier, PA; and many grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews.


Media Relations Office

(508) 289-3340

William Shields

(Courtesy WHOI Archives)