MHS News

William L. Saltonstall


The Massachusetts Historical Society has lost one of its most dedicated Fellows, the trustees and staff have lost a wonderful friend, and the world has lost an extraordinary man whose generosity of spirit, unfailing kindness and genuine interest in everyone he encountered endeared him to all.

Over the years Bill served the Society in many capacities: vice chair, treasurer, trustee and committee chair. His wise counsel was frequently sought and always appreciated. His many benefactions were made without fanfare but always with an eye to meeting the needs of the Society.

Bill cherished his family tradition at the MHS. Ever since 1816 when the first Leverett Saltonstall was elected a member, there has been a continuous succession of Saltonstalls and their extended family serving the Society. The Saltonstall Papers, spanning four centuries of family history, form an essential part of our collections. The Saltonstall Room is dedicated to one of his forebears. The Nora Saltonstall Preservation Librarian memorializes an aunt. For Bill, this was a legacy to be honored and upheld.

Our last encounter with Bill was a meeting of the Board of Trustees on 21 January, just two days before he died. As usual he walked up Boylston Street from the Massachusetts Avenue T station, entering the Council Seminar Room with his customary ebullient greetings. Bill always sat close by the Board chair so he could signal when he thought a topic had been sufficiently discussed and it was time to move on. He was usually right. He often punctuated his comments with anecdotes of local politicians, especially those with whom he had served at the State House during three terms as state senator.

This time “digitization of the collections” was on the agenda. Bill listened attentively, nodded appropriately, and finally said, “I don’t understand very much of this, but I’m glad you’re doing it.” After the meeting adjourned, he walked up to the third floor for a demonstration of the digitization process by several members of the staff, leaving us with indelible memories of his steady commitment and indefatigable spirit.

We have been blessed by Bill’s presence among us, by his devotion to the MHS, and by his friendship. He was a rare human being, without guile or pretense, always ready to help an individual or a cause. The MHS is diminished by his absence. We offer heartfelt condolences to his wife, Jane Saltonstall, and to the family he loved.

—Amalie M. Kass, Chair, Board of Trustees

Originally published in the Summer 2009 Iissue of MHS Miscellany


Published: Tuesday, 12 May, 2009, 12:00 AM