Obituaries: William Alan Stern

  • by BAR staff
  • Wednesday June 15, 2022
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William Alan Stern
William Alan Stern

January 17, 1957 — April 4, 2022

William Alan Stern, age 65, passed peacefully on April 4, 2022 in his San Francisco home.

Born on January 17, 1957, Bill was raised in Bolton, Connecticut. He graduated "best dressed" and was valedictorian of his class at Bolton High School. Bill went on to the University of Connecticut and studied abroad at the University of Paris, Sorbonne, France. He received his Master's degree in the history of art and architecture from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, while also serving as a curator on a French and American Impressionism exhibit at the Springfield Museum of Art. He then spent two summer terms at Trinity College, Oxford, England, and later went on to receive his Ph.D. in art history at UC Santa Barbara. While attending classes there, he taught undergraduate courses in art history, served a two-year term as graduate student president and founded and edited an interdisciplinary publication titled "Thresholds: Viewing Culture." After successfully completing his expansive education, he moved to San Francisco and settled in the sunny Mission district where he made his home for over three decades.

Throughout his life, Bill adored all varieties of culture. He was very fond of the theater, poetry, literature, fine art, films, and photography. He was a true patron of the arts and collected beautiful works to display on his walls. He also had a passionate love for music. At a young age he was an accomplished pianist and over the years he spent much of his time developing his skills as a guitarist. He started out playing with his garage band, then his talents carried him to the stage in Boston, and years later into the recording studio with his rock band, Blue Ruin. Bill always had a guitar close at hand and was still writing and recording new songs until his passing. He loved to listen to all genres of music, attend concerts and operas, compose, play, sing and dance.

Bill also had a strong affinity for travel and an eye for beautiful places. He loved exploring other cultures: the adventure, the architecture, the food, the art, the people. Bill traveled extensively, always documenting his trips with frame-worthy photography — from New England to New Zealand, Cornwall to Key West — he collected fantastic stories, memories, and treasured mementos. He followed a distillery tour through Scotland, hiked the mountains in Costa Rica, and loved the rainforest in Puerto Rico. He went to Egypt, Morocco, Iceland, and Rome, with so many other stops along the way — Paris being the closest to his heart.

After being diagnosed with HIV in 1988 and surviving many arduous medical treatments (some of which led to compromised eyesight), Bill discovered the miraculous power of massage. He pursued this modality as an empowering healing tool and completed a certification in Swedish and deep tissue massage in order to support many others in the HIV-positive and AIDS community with restorative touch. In 2000, his compassion and drive for giving back compelled him to found his own nonprofit organization, Positive Being. This was an inspiring organization of which the primary goal was to bring together the power of touch, empathy, and community through massage, retreats, and educational workshops. Positive Being fosters the integration of the physical, healing, and spiritual nature of our bodies to affect positive change in the health, self-esteem and well-being of anyone with HIV. Bill also led an ongoing support group and participated in fundraising events for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

Bill had many passions and talents, but his greatest contributions were his undying spirit, relentless perseverance, and fearless heart. Losing dear friends and partners to the AIDS epidemic broadened his capacity for deep joy and love, while he faced his own ailments with dignity, strength, and courage. Throughout his journey, Bill always felt that empathy and human connection were vital to living fully. He made lifelong friendships and relationships through his ability to connect with people on many different levels. He was a gentle listener and knew how to offer support and advice when needed. He was also a gifted storyteller, wonderful writer, and enjoyed bringing out stories in others. He was resolute about maintaining a positive attitude and loved to laugh and celebrate all manners of occasions, be they big or small. He frequently held social gatherings in his home and was a phenomenal host, thoughtfully curating all the elements of a memorable soirée — the musical playlist, the hors d'oeuvres, the lighting — his events were filled with all varieties of stimulating conversation, philosophy, and laughter. He had a true joie de vivre. His genuine smile, sense of humor and intelligent wit were all part of his unforgettable charm, as was his kindness and compassionate spirit. His friends and family cherish the memories of the times they shared with Bill.

Bill was preceded in death by his father, William Frederick, and is survived by his mother, Victoria; brother, Timothy and wife Barbara; his sister Allison and husband Michael; nephew Nick and his partner Lani; nephew Dan and his wife Brittney; as well as beloved aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends.

Although we are mourning that Bill is no longer with us, we are comforted knowing that his passing was peaceful and that he is at rest.

In lieu of flowers, we are asking anyone who would like to donate to please give to either Positive Being or Shanti Project (another volunteer organization that brought Bill much support, healing, and friendship).

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