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William F. Kimberly, beloved teacher and devoted booster at Nichols School; May 20, 1929 -- March 14, 2011

Nichols School has lost its beloved Mr. Kim.

William F. Kimberly Jr., a longtime English and French teacher known for his infectious energy and quick wit, died Monday in Hospice Buffalo, Cheektowaga. He was 81.

Starting in the 1940s, Mr. Kimberly spent 57 years as a student, teacher and photographer at Nichols.

Already a much-loved figure on the Nichols campus, Mr. Kimberly provided his final lesson to students -- and fellow staff members -- in the open way he dealt with his Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, deciding not to undergo chemotherapy.

In late January, the school surprised him with a heart-felt tribute during an upper-school assembly. Mr. Kimberly clearly relished the teachable moment, as school officials praised him for displaying courage, dignity and grace in the face of adversity.

Following his own lesson plan, Mr. Kimberly worked as long as he physically could. A week ago Sunday, eight days before his death, he went to the Nichols School rink at 8 a.m. to shoot photos of a hockey game, just 14 hours before he was admitted to Hospice care.

"I think that speaks volumes for his own spirit, as well as for his love of the school," said his wife, Susan Lenahan.

Mr. Kimberly's openness about his disease, which was diagnosed in early December, allowed the Nichols community to give him a loving goodbye, including a public dedication of his photography collection, "Nichols Now and Then." The early-February event drew several hundred people, many of them former students.

Mr. Kimberly often gave thanks for following his passion on earth, as a teacher.

"I just believe you come here, and you do what you can to better the place. Hopefully, you find something that you love to do, like I have. I've been blessed."

For 38 years, Mr. Kimberly prodded and challenged his Nichols students, in his animated, fun-loving way, punctuated by a few quirky personal touches.

"Make it fun, but make it tough," he said of his basic teaching philosophy.

A Buffalo native and Hobart College graduate, Mr. Kimberly had gone to Nichols for three years as a student. He taught there full time from 1957 to 1995 before moving into the Development Office and serving as campus photographer.

Outside the classroom, Mr. Kimberly was active with the board of Cradle Beach Camp for the past 30 years, following a family tradition started by his grandfather and father. He also was a founding member of the Hobart College Chapter of Delta Chi and a member of the National Ski Patrol, patrolling at Kissing Bridge from 1962 to 1968.

Survivors, in addition to his wife of 27 years, include two daughters, Dana Kimberly and Charlotte Haag; and a son, J. Townsend Kimberly.

A memorial service will be at 4 p.m. Saturday at Nichols School.

-- Gene Warner

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