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Bill Seaburg had a productive life and diverse academic career which showcased his many degrees and talents. After completing a BA with a major in English and a minor in linguistics at Western Washington State College (1970), with fieldwork on Lummi place names, he entered graduate school in Seattle to study with Laurence Thompson, who soon moved to Honolulu, where Bill began studying towards a doctorate in linguistics at the University of Hawaii (1970–75).  

Moving back to Seattle, Bill reentered the University of Washington to earn a master’s of librarianship (1981) followed by an MA (1989) and PhD (1994) in anthropology. From 1994 to 1998 he held faculty positions at UW Seattle, and from 1998 until his retirement in 2013, he was on the faculty at UW Bothell in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, attaining full professorship in 2006. He was a dedicated and popular teacher who encouraged and inspired his students with the breadth of his knowledge and his relaxed, often humorous, teaching style, often aided by slides.  

Bill was born and raised on a rural family farm near Tacoma, Washington, after they were evicted in 1936, a decade before Bill was born, from their original homestead on McNeil Island, at the insistence of the federal prison there. The household was multigenerational. Both the dislocation and family dynamics provided Bill with insights into Native communities and encouraged his many personal contributions and scholarly collaborations.  

Bill was a consummate scholar of ethnohistory, folklore, and Native literature, whose work reflected a thoughtful and meticulous approach to the study of Native languages, customs, and communities in western Oregon and Washington. He gave voice to numerous Native storytellers in publications based on the archives of anthropologist Melville Jacobs and his wife Elizabeth Derr Jacobs. In every sense, Bill was Jacobs’s heir, since Mel had no strictly linguistic students during his career. Bill’s significant contribution to the field of oral literature research is the idea that stories collected in idiomatic Red English, rather than the Native language of the storyteller, offered a unique vantage point for studying expressive style and performance.  

Bill left Hawaii unsure of his future, and returned to Seattle, where at the suggestion of Larry and Terry Thompson, he became companion to Bess Jacobs in her house near campus. A deep friendship developed. Helped by Bess who had a career as a psychiatric social worker, Bill found his direction at the University of Washington, where he earned three degrees and a professorship. Mel and Bess set up the Jacobs Research Fund at Bellingham, to promote work with Indigenous communities, especially in the Northwest, and Bill served on its board for a decade.  

Bill worked with Bess to publish extensive ethnography and literature from her 1930s notebooks with Tillamook Salish and coastal Oregon Athabaskans, including Tututni, Galice Creek, Upper Umpqua, Chetco, and Upper Coquille with well-known Coquelle Thompson. He also published materials from Melville’s Coos and Galice notebooks. He insightfully inventoried the entire Jacobs archive to the immense benefit of scholars.  

He was trusted by other elderly scholars to continue their work. While at Hawaii, by happenstance (contra Victor Golla in California Indian Languages, 2011), Li Fang Kuei gave Bill his Athabaskan fieldwork notebooks for Wailaki, which eventually appeared in several linguistic articles before they were donated to Berkeley’s California Language Archive. Bill also conducted his own fieldwork with Tolowa speakers in northern California. He became lifelong friends with the Li and Golla families.  

Bill’s publications include numerous peer-reviewed articles, encyclopedia articles, and five monographs. Two works feature Elizabeth Jacobs: The Nehalem Tillamook: An Ethnography (2003) and Pitch Woman and Other Stories: The Oral Traditions of Coquelle Thompson, Upper Coquille Athabaskan Indian (2007). The latter was awarded a 2007 Outstanding Academic Book Award by the American Libraries Association’s Choice magazine.  

Bill was a font of knowledge (with his own extensive archive) about early anthropologists in the Northwest. He happily conferred with friends and scholars on their various projects, especially Dale Kinkade, Nancy and Tony Mattina, Jay Miller, Dell Hymes, and Victor Golla, who recruited him for the comparative project for the eight Pacific Coast Athabaskan languages spread over three states.  

Bill coauthored several publications: Badger and Coyote Were Neighbors: Melville Jacobs on Northwest Indian Myths and Tales, with Pamela T. Amoss (2000); Coquelle Thompson, Athabaskan Witness: A Cultural Biography, with Lionel Youst (2002); and Folk-Tales of the Coast Salish by Thelma Adamson, with Laurel Sercombe (2009).  

Throughout his life, Bill was a connoisseur of good grammar, poetry, typewriters, #2 pencils, red pens, Athabaskan arcana, and wool socks. He succumbed at home with Parkinson’s on October 9, 2022. We will miss his unique blend of precision, intensity, curiosity, and humor.  

(Susanne Young, Laurel Sercombe, Jay Miller)