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William J. Duffy

February 7, 1933 February 23, 2020
William J. Duffy
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Obituary for William J. Duffy

People who met Bill Duffy for the first time were impressed by his smile and his intellect.

Throughout his life Bill was a prodigious reader and lifelong learner. This was evident even as a child. His questioning mind caught the attention of nuns at his parochial school in Des Moines, IA. His many questions caused the nuns to finally ‘suggest’ to his family that he might be better suited to a public school.

After graduating from high school in Des Moines in 1951 he received a scholarship to the University of Michigan. The wages he earned washing dishes during the school year and working the line at Ford’s Wayne Assembly plant in the summers helped pay for his undergraduate degree,1955, in Social Sciences and Mathematics. After graduation Bill worked for Ford and pursued graduate studies. He was a member of Ford’s Engineering staff from 1962 to 1969. He Earned his Ph.D in Psychology and Engineering from the University of Michigan in 1971.

Dr. Duffy was a professor of Industrial Engineering and Operations Research at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst until returning to Michigan to work as an Executive Consultant for General Motors (GM) Research and Development program. At GM he worked on the Saturn project and worked with corporate officers and factory floor teams. Bill felt that his earlier work on the line helped him to understand issues workers faced on the line and on the floor. Bill was very involved in bringing the NUMMI/Toyota management and production system into GM. He was a founding member of the Sociotechnical Systems (STS) Leadership Group/ STS Round Table. Due to Bill’s expertise in organizational factors in manufacturing, he presented to the Swedish Royal Academy of Engineering Sciences in Stockholm, to high level executives at Fiat, in Turin, Italy and at the Volvo Kalmar Conference in Gothenberg. He also was a guest presenter at Harvard University (Saturn project). He retired from GM in 1991.

Bill enjoyed teaching. He emphasized this to those he came in contact with and in his retirement years was a mentor and tutor locally with first graders at the Whitmer Human Resources Center (WHRC) in Pontiac. Bill’s involvement began through a partnership with his church, Birmingham Unitarian Church (BUC). As a result of Bill’s commitment to both WHRC and BUC he helped develop a non-profit, Communities United for Children (CUFC) to further serve the community.

In 2004 Bill joined a group of neighbors who worked to develop Barnum Park in Birmingham. This park was one of the joys of his last years.

Bill’s many interests included bicycling, nonfiction reading, music, cooking, social policy, history, art, travel and photography.

William Joseph Duffy died February 23 at William Beaumont Hospital Hospice.

He was 87 and had lived in Birmingham for more than 30 years. Dr. Duffy died with his wife of 34 years, Nancy, and his son, Bruce, by his side and while listening to Beethoven, one of his favorite composers. He had a deep love for classical music and took up the cello in his retirement. Bill also liked swing, jazz and choral music, but classical was his favorite. He had an excellent audio system and loved sitting in his special chair with a glass of wine every day at 4 p.m. listening to music.

Bill had a small collection of cookbooks and enjoyed cooking. He loved trying new foods and especially enjoyed a good seafood stew.

In retirement Bill and Nancy were serious travelers pursuing their interests in history, archeology, architecture and art. Their travels took them to various places in Europe, Asia and North America. He never met a museum he didn’t enjoy.

Dr. Duffy is survived by his wife, Nancy; two sons Bruce and Matthew and one grandson, Jack Duffy.

A memorial service for Dr. Duffy will be held at Birmingham Unitarian Church, 38651 Woodward, Bloomfield Hills, date and time are pending.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Michigan Brain Bank, 406 N. Ingalls Street, Ann Arbor, 48190; Baldwin Public Library, 300 W. Merrill, Birmingham, 48009; the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival, 4901 Northwestern, Suite 312, Southfield, 48075 and the Birmingham Unitarian Church, 38651 Woodward Ave., Bloomfield Hills, 48304.

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