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William E. Van Gieson
Actor, Playwright, Teacher, Beloved Husband & Father
February 6, 1941 - April 23, 2023
GLENFORD ....William “Bill” Edward Van Gieson, 82, passed away Sunday, April 23, 2023, at son, Jonathan’s home in Glenford, after complications from a stroke.
Bill was born on February 6, 1941 in Paterson, New Jersey, the eldest of three children, to Norma and William F. Van Gieson. He later moved with his family to Fair Lawn, New Jersey, where he enjoyed roaming wood and field and biking freely.
He graduated from Pope Pius XII High School in Passaic, New Jersey in 1959. After graduation, Bill enlisted in The United States Navy, serving faithfully for five years. Following an honorable discharge, he went on to study acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, NYC.
He landed a variety of roles in the city and in regional theater, before being cast at The WPA Theater where he was later named Playwright in Resident, and had many of his own works produced. He was especially proud of his full-length play, Asleep in Amber.
Bill taught film study at August Martin High School in Queens, NY, and Acting and Shakespeare at Windham College, Putney, VT. There, during Windham Summer Repertory Theater, he played his most demanding role: Shannon in The Night of the Iguana, by Tennessee Williams. Audiences approved. Windham was also where Bill met future wife Cheryl Josephson, in 1976, while performing together in a play. He instantly dubbed her “CJ” and never called her Cheryl once, in their entire marriage.
They relocated, first to Hoboken, NJ, then Staten Island, NY, where they married on Midsummer’s Day, June 21, 1985. Ironically, at the time they were performing together as Titania and Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Staten Island Shakespeare Theater. They would have marked their thirty-eighth anniversary on June 21, 2023 - Midsummer’s Day.
On ‘the Island” they delighted in the vibrant theater community. Bill’s favorite roles (in addition to Bottom) were: Con Melody, in A Touch of the Poet; Shelly Levene, in Glengarry Glen Ross; and his hilarious award-winning portrayal of “Spats” Colombo in Sugar.
Bill also utilized his acting skills at home, where he read the first four books in the Harry Potter series aloud to young son Will, employing over twenty different accents; something Will, at thirty-five, still recalls with great joy.
Although his deepest desire was to act full-time, Bill chose to support his family without resentment or complaint, for over forty years, managing to get onstage whenever able. Positions included: Accounting Supervisor, Marine Transport Lines; Accountant, Delta Marine Supply Corp; Data Base Administrator, R. R. Bowker, and Martindale Hubbell.
Bill read voraciously, often two-three books in a day. Blessed with a prodigious memory, he recalled almost everything he read and could talk about it. His first order of business wherever he lived, was to find the public library and procure a card.
A lifelong audiophile, Bill adored the old radio shows, listening avidly on long car trips, especially to Gunsmoke, and The Shadow. He had an eclectic taste in music, enjoying among many artists Joni Mitchell, Ray Charles, Judy Collins, Ella Fitzgerald, The Rolling Stones, Simon & Garfunkel, and Gilbert and Sullivan- a special favorite being The Mikado.
Bill had some memorable expressions. Each day when he returned home from work, he proclaimed: “I’ll have my martini in the tub.” (His favorite cocktail when out: a Bombay Sapphire on the rocks with a twist). When the phone rang - in the days when we had landlines - he quoted Dorothy Parker, quipping,“What fresh hell is this?” His dogs were "biscuit eaters", his cats "Gatos", and his frequent comment on a new dish CJ produced: “It has a lovely nutlike flavor.”
Bill also relished film, trout fishing, and trivia. His encyclopedic knowledge of geography and history helped earn his team, The Bickersons, second place in the Star Ledger’s annual Ricky Retro Trivia competition 2007. He loved dogs and cats (at one time caring for seven in a small West New York apartment). Above all, Bill loved his sons, Jon and Will, born on the same date, March 31st, fourteen years apart.
Bill was preceded in death by his mom, “Shirley,” and his dad, Bill.
He is survived by his wife, Cheryl; his sons Jonathan (Jo) and William; his sister, Norma (Joe), and brother, Robert (Anne), and some twenty nieces, nephews, grand nieces and nephews, in addition to cherished best dog Pippin, and “grand dog” Luna Belle.
Bill fought mightily over five years to retain autonomy, as his loved ones can attest. We feel his absence most profoundly, and will forever cherish memories of his brilliance on stage, his wry sense of humor and that deeply resonant, beautiful voice we ardently wish that we could hear just once more.
A small service in May is planned for immediate family members/close friends at the Woodstock Artists Cemetery in Woodstock, New York.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation in Bill’s memory, to one of the following: The Actor’s Fund: actorsfundhome.org; The American Stroke Association: stroke.org; or Best Friends Animal Society: best friends.org.
When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down
And ask of thee forgiveness. So we’ll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news, and we’ll talk with them too—
Who loses and who wins; who’s in, who’s out—
And take upon ’s the mystery of things,
As if we were God’s spies. And we’ll wear out,
In a walled prison, packs and sects of great ones
That ebb and flow by th’ moon.
King Lear Act 5; Scene 3
- William Shakespeare