Centre College mourns loss of Bill Breeze ’45, ‘Mr. Centre’
William Hancock “Bill” Breeze, 91, husband of Centre College music professor Barbara Hall and father of Nancy Louise Breeze ’76, died at his home Friday morning, June 26, after a brief hospital stay.
He was born on Nov. 25, 1923, and grew up in Brooksville, Ky., county seat of Bracken County, the only child of William T. Breeze, who owned a hardware store, and Nancy Hancock Breeze, the first female county school superintendent in Kentucky.
After attending Bracken County public schools, he enrolled at Centre in September, 1941. In 1942 he enlisted in the Navy, was called to active duty in 1943, reported for training at Berea and at Columbia University, and served as a junior officer on a minesweeper in the Pacific.
After the war he earned a master’s degree in mathematics from the University of Kentucky. In 1948 he joined the Ohio National Life Insurance Company in Cincinnati, first as an actuary and followed by a series of increasingly important managerial roles, including Executive Vice President. Among his honors, he was named a Fellow of the Society of Actuaries.
Following the death of his first wife, Joanne Watson Breeze, and after 38 years at Ohio National, he took early retirement on Dec. 31, 1986. The next day, on Jan. 1, 1987, he began what became a legendary 28-year second career at Centre. His first role was Vice President for External Affairs, but within a year and a half he was named Interim President. Until he turned 90, he worked virtually every day as Special Assistant to the Centre President, providing trusted and indispensable advice on endowment, planned giving, budget, enrollment, financial aid policy and many other issues.
In presenting him with the Presidential Award in 2013, Centre President John A. Roush called him “one who represents the heart of this place.” Breeze served Centre in virtually every way possible, including Chair of the Board of Overseers, member of the Board of Trustees and President of the Alumni Association. While a student at Centre, he was a member of Beta Theta Pi; their fraternity house, “Breeze House,” is named in his honor.
His love of classical music and understated sense of humor were reflected in his responses to a 2010 Centre survey. For “favorite album,” he wrote “All Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Richard Strauss, Dvorak.” For “Attitude toward technology,” he responded “Appreciate it greatly, understand it poorly.” For “Living figure you’d most like to meet,” he wrote “my 69-year friendship with Judge Pierce Lively over any famous new acquaintance.” And for “What would you be doing if you weren’t working at Centre,” he responded “What could be better?”
The family suggests that any donations be made to Centre College in memory of Bill Breeze.
A memorial service for Bill Breeze will be held Sat., August 8 at 11 a.m. in Weisiger Theater at the College’s Norton Center for the Arts, followed by a reception in the Newlin Hall foyer.
by Milton Reigelman
June 26, 2015