Bill Sick, a longtime SFI Board member, passed away on December 8, 2023. (image: Bill Sick)

William (Bill) Sick, who served for nearly two decades on SFI’s Board of Trustees, passed away on December 8, 2023. He was 88 years old.

Deeply curious with strong interests in technology and engineering, Sick was an active member of the SFI Board for two decades. He held a B.A. and a B.S. in electrical engineering from Rice University, and he used his degrees to fill several roles — from semiconductor engineering to executive vice president and director — at Texas Instruments before launching several businesses as a venture capitalist.

Sick learned about SFI in the late-nineties through Robert Maxfield, who had joined the Board in 1992. The two were serving together on the Board of Rice University and shared common interests in SFI’s multidisciplinary approach to science.

“We loved the same things about SFI,” says Maxfield. “We were both curious and wanted to learn, and SFI scientists knew how to communicate in ways that a layperson could understand. I knew he’d be very interested, so I invited him to a Symposium.” Sick joined SFI’s board in 2000.

With his experience as a high-level executive, Sick brought to the Board a wealth of knowledge about management and an interest in coaching. “He didn’t talk a lot in the meetings, but he never hesitated to make a call or contact people in person,” says Maxfield.

SFI Professor Geoffrey West, who served as SFI’s president from 2005 through 2009, benefited from Sick’s behind-the-scenes approach. “I really enjoyed his support and positive criticism,” he says. West was learning how to oversee an organization as he went, and he says, “Sick did one thing for me that was really important — it changed me forever.”

Working one-on-one as was his fashion, Sick approached West to congratulate him on his achievements as President, and to suggest he needed a fundraising coach. He knew just the person — a well-regarded consultant who would mentor West in pitching the Institute, and his own research, with clarity, simplicity, and confidence. “He did me and SFI a great service,” says West. “We changed our whole approach to raising money.”

As the Institute grew and matured in its early decades, it needed a Board that could embrace its identity as a center for fundamental research. Sick was willing to adapt his understanding of the Institute, letting his interests shift from that of a pure technologist toward a more integrated view of how SFI could offer insights into the biggest challenges of the 21st century.

Those kinds of insights are at the heart of the discussions and presentations featured at SFI’s annual Board Symposium, an event that Sick and his wife, Stephanie Sick, attended each year. “Since I first met him in the early 2000s until his health prevented him from traveling, I don’t recall a time when he and Stephanie missed a Board meeting or Symposium,” says West. “I think it was a reward for him. He was a man of broad interests.”

SFI President David Krakauer recalls similar memories and sentiments. “Bill and Stephanie have been stalwarts of SFI support over the years and the source of much institutional history for me,” he says. “I have always appreciated their support for a more expansive vision of SFI that connects the sciences with the arts. We are stronger than we have ever been and this ultimately comes down to the ideas and support of board members like Bill. We shall miss him.”