EAST LYME, CT - William Charles Wernau, 70, died Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018, at Yale New Haven Hospital with his adoring wife, Anne, by his side.
In addition to his wife, Bill leaves behind his son, Paul and wife, Katie Wernau of Cambridge, Mass.; his son, Peter and wife, Thi Linh Wernau of Rockport, Mass., and their sons, Winston Wrigley and Albert William; his daughter, Karen and husband, David Martin of New York City; and his daughter, Julie of New York City; as well as several nieces, nephews, and an untold number of "adopted" family members. William was predeceased by his parents, Charles and Edna Wernau, and his brother, Charles Wernau.
William was born Jan. 22, 1947, in Queens, N.Y. His family had little, but prioritized taking a vacation every year, beginning a lifelong love affair with nature and science. Bill was whip-smart and claimed that a fall, that left him in a coma when he was eight years old, miraculously improved his grades.
"I was tall, skinny, large nosed, fast, cunning and responsible. So, by a combination of superior intelligence, strategic footwork and a fear of being pummeled to death, I managed to survive," he wrote of his childhood.
He loved to tell stories about outsmarting the bullies, his grandmother and even the NYC subway system.
Bill's excellent grades at Brooklyn Tech earned him entrance to The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, at the time a tuition-free college, where he earned a degree in chemical engineering in 1968.
During college, he met the love of his life: a then-shy Brooklyn girl named Anne, who worked with him at the same summer camp. He would commute two hours each way by subway to see his Coney Island sweetheart. His love for Anne was unshakeable throughout their lives. His cards were romantic, often hand-drawn and filled with amorous poems he had written for his wife. They married Aug. 24, 1968, and were set to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary this year with all their children and grandchildren.
After he and Anne married, they spent the first few years of their marriage in California, where Bill earned a PhD in chemical engineering in 1972, at the University of California at Berkeley. Bill used to joke that he and Anne were probably the biggest squares ever to live in Berkeley, during the era of free love and experimentation.
Bill spent his career in science at Pfizer Inc. and retired as director of Bioprocess Research in 2002. Fascinated by and knowledgeable about science, Bill was also a deeply spiritual and emotional person. He struggled to understand the meaning of existence and was in constant pursuit for the truth about God. He engaged in a quest of self-improvement, pushing himself to understand the origin and motivation behind his thoughts and actions.
Bill's friends knew him as an avid ping pong player, who loved telling bad jokes from Reader's Digest, traveling to far-flung places with his soulmate, Anne, and FaceTiming with his grandson, Winston. A creative soul, he once wowed his children by pouring a pancake in the shape of a poodle.
His spiritual journey led him to a second life after retirement, devoted to helping others both in the community and around the world. He became a passionate spokesman for those living in poverty, and spent the last 14 years of his life as a volunteer coordinator for Heifer International. He would grow visibly emotional each time he told the story of a family touched by poverty.
In addition to his work with Heifer International, he spent the last years of his life devoted to aiding his wife's life's work - mentoring and teaching women and children to bring safety to their lives and relationships. He joined Anne in teaching classes at York Correctional Institution in Niantic and volunteering at Safe Futures in New London, where Anne spent her career teaching thousands of children in Southeastern Connecticut schools about relationships and decision making. The two of them touched the lives of countless individuals, and their home was a stream of visiting "family" that stretched far beyond the merely biological.
A celebration of Bill's life will be held at 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 10, at Niantic Community Church, 170 Pennsylvania Ave., in Niantic. The family requests donations be directed in memoriam to Safe Futures, 16 Jay St., New London, CT 06320 or http://www.safefuturesct.org/take-action/contribute/donate.
Published on January 23, 2018