NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
William "Bill" Bechill (1929 - 2007)
For more than 50 years, William "Bill" Bechill made remarkable contributions to older Americans, to aging policy and to social work. He received his master's degree in Social Work from the University of Michigan in 1952, and retired as a professor at the University of Maryland, School of Social Work, in 1991. Following his retirement, he continued to volunteer his time giving guest lectures and contributing to aging policy until he died in 2007.
Bill is probably best known for his efforts as a contributing author and the first administrator of the Older Americans Act. He was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson as the first Commissioner on Aging in 1965. His charge was to establish the Administration on Aging and relevant state and local entities to accomplish the provisions of the Act. Prior to the 1961 White House Conference on Aging, which led to this act, there was relatively little general public focus on the needs of older Americans. His efforts raised awareness among policymakers about issues facing older Americans, and led to a greater investment of federal, state, and local resources to address those issues.
Mr. Bechill did not start, nor end, his career with the Administration on Aging. Prior to that appointment, he had governor's appointments in Michigan and California. His last governor's appointment was as chair of the Maryland Commission on Aging where he developed the Commission as a strong advocacy voice for older Marylanders. He was a county social welfare director in Michigan, executive secretary of California's Citizens Advisory Committee and then Chief of the division of medical care in the California Department of Social Welfare.
In 1969, when his federal appointment ended, Bill moved to the University of Maryland, School of Social Work, where he energized and inspired young minds to engage with issues related to older Americans. His teaching and research efforts included national and state policy on income maintenance, aging among people of color, international aging issues, long-term care, senior centers, and the Older Americans Act. Professor Bechill also chaired the Center on Global Aging at the National Catholic School of Social Service at The Catholic University of America, a center which was founded by Dr. Daniel Thursz.
Another of his major efforts was inspiring people to advocacy. He felt that awareness and education should be used not only in culturally competent practice, but also to inform policy change. As a strong advocate of Social Security and Medicare, for example, Bill teamed up with such other pioneers as Arthur Fleming to prevent any attempts to move those social insurance programs into the private sector. Their organization was called S.O.S. for Save our Security. One of Bill's major activities as Chair of the Maryland Commission on Aging was to energize local Commissions to advocate with their local and state legislators on behalf of the needs in their communities. With calm serenity, Bill made his points and effectively moved his agenda for the betterment of elders.
The hand of William Bechill is felt throughout the country, at local, county, state, national and international levels. He is a true social work pioneer.