Family remembers skier who died at Breckenridge Ski Resort on Jan. 7
William James Hass was a life-long learner.
As an inventor, writer and entrepreneur, Hass' life was largely defined by his intelligence and an unrelenting desire to share his knowledge with his loved ones and colleagues. And like most who make their way to the mountains, Hass had a passion for skiing.
Hass died Jan. 7 at Breckenridge Ski Resort following a cardiac event, but knowing that he died on the ski slopes during one of his annual voyages out West is something of a comfort for his family, as he got to spend his final moments reveling in perhaps his most adored pastime.
"He wasn't just an anecdote, he was bigger than life," said Debby Hass, William's wife. "He was a man well-loved, deeply and richly loved. And not only by his family, but he was admired and revered by his business colleagues. It's a testament to the man he was. And I'm happy he died a blessed, good death, and that it happened while he was young enough that people will remember him and honor him."
Hass, 71, grew up on the north side of Chicago as an only child, taking road trips with his parents to visit different lakes around the country. His father was a plant engineer, and used to bring Hass with him to work to look at the machinery and equipment. Those trips would make a lasting impact on Hass' life.
"I think that largely contributed to his desire to be an engineer," Debby said. "He liked to see how things operated, and he liked to see things from start to finish."
Hass graduated from Lane Technical High School in Chicago before enrolling at the University of Illinois-Chicago College of Engineering, where he graduated first in his class and was recognized with the Bell Honors Award. At UIC, Hass also co-founded the University of Illinois Engineering Alumni Association. After graduation, Hass received his master's of business administration at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
Following school, Hass enjoyed a number of different endeavors, including work with the Peat Marwick accounting firm, Wilson Sporting Goods and as a partner with Ernst & Young. Later in life, Hass served as the CEO of TeamWork Technologies, Inc., a consulting and research organization that assists with improving business practices. Most recently, Hass was working alongside his son, Charles, at his property management company.
Additionally, Hass is a former national chairman for the Turnaround Management Association, a worldwide community of professionals who work with companies to improve their businesses. Hass also served as the vice president and founder of the Private Directors Association, a group dedicated to enhancing the value of private companies using a broad network of CEOs, business owners and board members for their expertise. His work ethic was one thing he handed down to his children.
"He supported our goals, and really taught us the way," said Charles, his son. "He made us understand how to work for things. I used to cut lawns as a kid, and my lawn mower broke and I needed a new one. He said, 'OK, we'll finance it for you, and you give us $8 a lawn until it's paid for.' He was always supportive, but he wouldn't give anything away. He'd tell you how to make it work, and how to see it through."
Despite participation in numerous professional groups and associations, Hass also believed in creating things for himself. In the late 1970s, Hass invented the Bone Fone, a wearable radio that could be draped around the user's neck as a hands-free alternative to other radios that could be worn while skiing or biking. In the same vein, Hass also invented an early version of the stereo jacket, with speakers built into the collar and a cord going to the pocket so users could play their own music.
"He was passionate about making the world a better place, and making things better," Charles said. "His was a path of never-ending improvement. … He was definitely an entrepreneur."
Hass also co-authored two books: "The Private Equity Edge: How Private Equity Players and the World's Top Companies Build Value and Wealth," and "Board Perspectives: Building Value through Strategy, Risk Assessment and Renewal."
In his free time, Hass enjoyed going to his summer retreat in Wisconsin, where he would wow bystanders with his waterskiing skills on Elizabeth Lake. He was known to others in the area as the "Happy Skier." At home he often took to reading, mostly books on business, which he would fill with sticky notes on his personal thoughts. His family also described him as a "news hound" constantly switching between networks to gain new perspectives on the day's goings-on around the world.
"He was always seeking knowledge, and he was a smart cookie," Debby said. "But you'd never know it. He was so humble and kind, and he never lorded it over others. He would just pull you aside to share something, and he became a great educator among his peers later in life."
"He was a perpetual student," Charles added. "He was always learning, always thinking."
Hass' family described him as relatively quiet, the type of man who was always hesitant to boast, and who wouldn't share even his most exciting stories unless he was asked to. Yet he was also easy to get along with. And perhaps most importantly, he understood what was truly important to him.
"He had this thing about the dash between when you're born and when you die," Debby said. "And what matters is the dash in between. He always had time for our children and me. That's not lost on them now. … I can tell you from the comments we've received from friends from the lake, skiing friends and business friends that Bill was larger than life. He had a zest for living, and did so with gusto. He was a quiet man, but his actions spoke for him. He was a loyal and dedicated friend."
Hass is survived by Debby and his children Charles, Veronica and Andrew. He was also the proud grandfather of five granddaughters, and a grandson currently on the way.
A memorial has been set up in Hass' name at the University of Illinois Foundation. Those looking to donate to the memorial should do so by mail to UIC Engineering, SEO Room 821, 851 S. Morgan Street (MC 159), Chicago, Illinois, 60607 under the memo line "Bill Hass Memorial."