Remembering a Peacemaker…

Bill Petry

Bill Petry

On Monday evening, August 24th, 2009 the world lost one of its great lights.  Bill Petry, an intergral member of Michigan Peace Team, was struck & killed while pursuing one of his great passions: riding his bicycle on a beautiful Eaton County country road.  Bill was pronounced dead Tuesday morning, but since Bill had signed up to be an organ donor, his body was kept on life support to maintain the viability of his organs while arrangements could be made for a number of people to receive these life-saving gifts.  How very “Bill-like” – – using his last breaths to give life and hope to others.

Bill touched so many lives at so many different levels.  He was absolutely crazy-in-love with his wife Julia, even after all these many years since they’d first declared their vows to each other.  He was such a proud father to his son Hisham, and was enjoying networking with friends here in Lansing to find a new home for Hisham & Lee Anne (his daughter-in-law) in Chicago.  After all, networking was one of the things Bill did best!  He was also making plans for local people to “roadtrip” to the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation conference in Chicago next month (and of course, he volunteered to be one of the drivers).  And, as always, he was helping Michigan Peace Team line up volunteers to help with our International Peace Team trainings.  He was working on plans to bring an investigative photojournalist from Gaza – Sameh Habeeb – here to speak.  Who knows what all else Bill was doing….. in his role at Lansing Community College as a teacher & advisor there;  or with People for Positive Social Change, where he acted as their faculty advisor;  or for the Greater Lansing United Nations Association, where he was a board member;  or as a long-time member of the Peace Education Center & founding member of the Middle East Awareness Committee?  Tomorrow, at noon, is the regular vigil at the Capital for peace in the Middle East.  And for the first time in memory, Bill won’t be there.

Bill was afire with a passion for peace with justice, for an end to the occupation of Palestine, and with the belief that one person CAN make a difference.  He loved life, and he loved the people in his life, and he made sure they knew it.

May each of us take and own a piece of that fire that burned so brightly in Bill.  May we pass it along to new friends and new peacemakers.  And may we renew our own dedication to the kind of nonviolent, creative peacemaking that Bill so boldly, selflessly, and joyfully showed us.


  1. When living in Lansing in the 1980’s, I enjoyed many bike rides with Bill including one Del Mac ride. He left me with many happy memories of friendship and healthy living.

    Bill was a man of peace. He inspired commitment to work for peace in others. His compassion for people, suffering from violence and war, came not from idology, but a vision that in this world men and women can live in peace. I learned from him; he was for me an inspiration. Although I did not see him often, his passing is a deep lose.

    I will keep his family in prayer. May he rest in peace.

    Tom McGuire

  2. I am sorry for your loss MPT, as well as those who knew Bill as an inveterate supporter of peace and justice, and loving citizen of the world.

    I had the pleasure of spending time with him when he came to Oregon–where I live–to start a bike ride back to Michigan, then later had an opportunity to meet his wife, Julia. To you, MPT, and to Julia and the rest of Bill’s family, I am sorry. But please know your grief is shared around the world.

    My husband and I cannot join you Friday but we will take a bike ride in his honor on that day, and will think about the many and consistent contributions he made in his life to making this a better world. Thank you, Bill. We will miss you. Maria Doyle and AJ Rogers

  3. Dear Julia & all:
    On behalf of ADC Michigan & the Arab American Community it serves in Michigan, please accept our sincere condolences for the passing of or dear freind & a peace maker & bridge builder the late Bill Perty.
    Indeed, it is a great loss to all of us and especially those who worked with Bill through out the long years on behalf of Peace & justice. Bill is gong to be missed, but his legacy & his struggle will continue to move forward. May God bless his soul & may God grant his wife Julia & his love ones with the patience & comfort.
    Our condolences to all.
    Imad Hamad
    ADC Sr. National Advisor/Regional Director
    ACCHR- President & CEO
    13530 Michigan Ave # 329- Dearborn, MI 48126/USA
    313-581-1201 Fax:313-581-1604
    *** Alternate Email Address: Imadadc@gmail.com
    For more information regarding the ADC Michigan Events
    http://www.adcmichigan.org http://www.adc.org

  4. How amazing and perfect that Bill was doing what he loved to do when he finished this trip. My appreciation for Bill will be forever. I was so lucky to spend all those years “working” at the Peace Ed Center with him. I am smiling with Bill right now.

  5. Thanks for this remembrance of Bill; it does very well in painting a vivid picture of him. He was so generous with MPT and other organizations, and all those whose lives he touched.

  6. How very tragic for the Bill’s family, the Michigan Peace Team, our world in desparate need of peacemakers, and for all the people Bill has ministered with and to in his many years of dedicated service.

  7. It is heartening to see how many people I know have posted notes about Bill on their FB site or commented in one of the numerous blogs,articles or other places to do so. It is such a testiment to how many lives he touched.

    What an amazing individual.

    I was always moved by Bill’s deep love for Julia. Such a fantastic couple. There are many stories I will think of in remembering Bill, but the common thing that weaves them together was his willingness to help. A loan (which of course became a gift) when getting lost means I arrived with an empty tank of gas and a long ride back home, the endless calls to find folks to do roleplays or to line up a space for an MPT training, a driver for a conference, sticking around to pick up chairs after an event…. the list goes on. Always willing to work behind the scenes and give of himself – his deep commitment to justice and peace and his genuine affection for people and enjoyment of life came across to all of us who were lucky enough to call him a friend.

  8. Bill Petry is my hero, Every thing about this man is heroic he inspired me to be a better person a week before his death I was telling my beloved wife about this hero how he spend most his live fighting for the future of our children. I love riding my bicycle too But I did not have the honor to ride with bill, I will be riding my bicycle thinking of my hero…(Bill Petry). All the love from me & my family To his wife Julia Who he loved very much.
    We are sorry for missing the funeral, We were in Chicago when this happend —
    Ali Elbast & Family
    & alielbast@yahoo.com

  9. To all those that knew Bill and loved him, I am so sorry for your loss. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

  10. For almost eight years Bill Petry was a part of the Lansing Peace Vigil which gathers at Friday noon in front of the Michigan Capitol. Bill’s favorite sign was Honk for Peace. Bill was our peace and justice friend. We will miss him very much. The Peace Vigil community will keep Bill’s spirit alive in our work and we will remember him in our closing circle.
    Honk for Peace! Honk for Justice! Honk for Bill!

  11. The crowds kept coming – the seemingly endless line of mourners paying homage to this Man of Peace just kept pouring into Tiffany’s Funeral Home last Friday. At the funeral service on Saturday morning, every single seat was filled leaving standing room only for the hundreds who came to bid farewell to Bill and to support his family. None of us would ever have known the true depth and breadth of his love and passion for peace without the physical presence and vocal tributes of all those who came to his funeral. Folks representing LCC faculty, staff & students; Peace Education Center; Michigan Peace Team; Pax Christi Michigan; Greater Lansing Network Against War and Injustice; Lansing’s West Side neighbors; bikers and more. What a tribute to Bill, and to his beloved wife, son and daughter-in-law. I know they felt overwhelmed with the love, sympathy and compassion shown by all. Thank you, Bill, for enriching all of our lives with your spirit, your love, your hope, your hard work and passion for justice and peace throughout the world. We will miss your gentle presence and persistent spirit.

    With love & peace,
    Joan Tirak
    On behalf of Pax Christi Michigan

  12. I think we all need inspiration in our work for peace and justice and I would like to share mine with you. Last week when I received a phone call that a friend of mine, Bill Petry, had been hit by a truck and killed as he was riding his bicycle I was overwhelmed with grief and disbelief. I work with death and dying every day in a health care center but these are women who are prepared and expect to die. I help them to make that final journey. Bill’s death was a shock out of the blue but I believe that he too in some peaceful way was ready by the life that he led.

    Bill and I served together on the finance committee of the Michigan Peace Team. Our little group met once a month. Bill’s entire life was spent in giving and working for others. I remember him as always gentle and peaceful yet strong and organized.

    I have never been to a Wake and Funeral so inspiring than last Friday and Saturday. Every chair was filled and hundreds were standing. It was a totally diverse group – family, students & faculty from Lansing community college where he taught, every peace group imaginable, African Americans, Haitians, Hispanics, Middle Easterners, bikers, homeless, children, and adults.

    The service went on for almost two hours with remembrances of Bill. I would guess that there were over 100 cars in the funeral procession. The funeral parlor ran out of flags and had to put them on every other car.

    I am inspired to ask what more can I do. May we all continue our work for peace in whatever way we are able.

    Mary Pat Dewey

  13. A LOG IS AN EXPONENT. I wrote this the other day for my students in rural Uganda, and couldn’t help but think of Bill, or Mr. Petry as I was remembering him. First as a mathematics teacher at LCC, then as an activism mentor with PPSC and finally support as I learned to be an educator, and sent students to him. Bill made a huge impact on my life in more ways than he would ever have known, and is continuing to do so as I teach my math classes, ride my bicycle and am politically active, a world away. Thank you, you will be deeply, fundamentally missed.

  14. Today, I went on a mission. First, to the Eaton County Sheriff’s Department for reasons that will soon become apparent, and, second, to find the spot where the peacemaker, Bill Petry, was killed on his bicycle while training for the DALMAC Bike Tour. Why was it so important to me that I find the place where Bill was killed? Was it because I am morbid? No, it was because I wanted it to make sense–why Bill died. The reason Bill died makes about as much sense to me as the damned war that was the reason I knew Bill. I met him while seeking out others who understood how much I hated the war and who understood how heartbreaking it was for me to have a son in the middle of that war. I guess I met Bill in 2005, when I met others in the peace community in the Lansing area. I can’t say that I got to know him well, but we shared some conversations and some common goals, and we stood side-by side at some peace rallies, and I remember Bill as a good man–better than most, in fact, and not hateful, but loving and kind with a warm, friendly smile.

    The afternoon that Bill was struck, I was at Lake Lansing, at the beach, with my children. It was a beautiful day and the first day we had been to a beach all summer. On returning home, I got on my laptop and opened my e-mail, where I found the LSJ Breaking NEWS. A cyclist, Bill Petry, had been killed by a 47-year-old man from Eaton Rapids. I hoped it wasn’t the Bill Petry I knew, and I wondered who the Eaton Rapids man was, since I have lived in Eaton Rapids for 13 plus years. I checked for more information and found that it was Bill–the Bill I knew, and I was very sad. Shortly after learning it was Bill who died, I also learned that I knew the driver who struck Bill down with his truck.

    The man who struck Bill was a former police officer who now mainly trains dogs. He has a successful kennel here in Eaton Rapids and the dogs that he trains do things, like check school lockers for illegal drugs. He also teaches obedience. He is good with dogs. He also has a wife and young children and has traveled to a foreign country to distribute eyeglasses to people who need them. I met this man because he was a dog trainer, and, later, I saw him quite frequently at two of the barbershops I have worked at here in Eaton Rapids.

    The problem is, not just that I know both of these men, but the former police officer has a known problem with his vision. He was diagnosed with it several years ago and has managed to maintain his driving license anyway–despite that people in positions to do something KNEW he had this condition, including the man, himself. His condition, as I understand it, is not correctable with lenses. I have been told that what this former officer suffers from is macular degeneration. He should not have been driving his big truck at all. Bill should not be dead.

    I found the spot where Bill was hit. At least I assume I found it. The only thing marking the area are three orange circles drawn on the road and a pair of plastic medical gloves that someone forgot to dispose of. That’s it. I feel there should be something more–like a big cross bearing Bill’s name, with PEACEMAKER written through it–something to mark Bill’s last bike trip–something to say something wrong happend here. Something to make this make sense.

    Oh, the sherriff’s department sent in the paperwork to the Secretary of State to have the former officer’s driving evaluated. I wanted to know they had done this. I didn’t want to see another person die, needlessly, like Bill did, because a half blind man was arrogant enough to drive a large pick-up truck even though he knew about his vision problem. That’s why I went to the sherrif’s department today. I still have concerns, though. Can the test be memorized? Could the former officer pass the test, this way? Are there provisions that would make this impossible?

    I heard the former officer who hit Bill went to his son’s football game the day of Bill’s funeral, and that no one would know he had taken a man’s life just days before. I don’t get this. It doesn’t make sense to me, either, but who am I? What do I know? Is there any justice in this world? What would Bill do? What would the peacemaker do?

  15. Your loss saddens me for reasons unknown to you, but which I am about to inform you!

    Apx. 1 year has past since the driver of the same vehicle, who struck down your beloved Bill, also came, litterally, within a couple of inches of hitting me while out riding my horse on the same road, just 1 mile from the scene where Bill was carelessly plowed over on his bicycle. Had it not been for the sign posted on the side of his truck, there would have been no possible way for me to track him down and confront him.

    Sincerely,Pinto Dahl

    If you need more information please feel free to contact me at my email address. May the Great Spirit keep and bless you and yours.

  16. i was shocked to learn about his death.he was a hero supporting the palestinian course , a loving human being, whom many of us in palestina will never forget. my deep condolences to julia , god bless his soul.

  17. I just learned of Bill’s death from a mutual friend, and my husband Ahmed and I are still in shock and grief! He was always an inspiration to me in Peace Education Center committee work and a great friend, easy-going, ever-positive, encouraging and loving. We were back at work in the United Arab Emirates before the tragedy occurred, but are so sorry to have not been able to attend the wake. Our love and sorrow are shared with his loving and greatly loved family, Julia, Hesham and his wife. We will miss a great friend to the world!

    Mary Kay Rathke
    Ahmed Hussein

  18. I drove by Bill & Juila’s old house in Lansing, wondering if they still lived there. I am so saddened to hear of the passing of one with such a kind and generous heart.

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