Get our newsletters

William D. MacDowell


William D. MacDowell, “Bill,” died peacefully, surrounded by his family, on Sept. 30, two months shy of his 90th birthday.
Bill was born in Bronxville, N.Y., the second child of five of Watson and Ruth MacDowell. He grew up in Scarsdale, N.Y., and spent his summers in Pawling, N.Y., where he lived a country life – raising chickens, growing vegetables, climbing the trees in the orchard, and enjoying their fruits, and helping his Dad with the bee hives. His love and appreciation of nature started in these young years.
After high school Bill attended Oberlin College, where he met Jane, his lifelong love. After receiving his MBA from the Harvard Business School in 1955, he worked in sales for Proctor and Gamble, and marketing for General Foods. When General Foods acquired the Burpee Seed Company in 1971, he became its president – his dream job – and the family moved to Solebury, Pa., his home for the last 50 years.
When he retired, Bill put his leadership and business skills to use in many charitable causes to benefit his local community. His passion for the land led him to have a leading role in local land preservation, working with the township and homeowners to preserve many acres of beautiful Solebury countryside. In addition, he served on and chaired the board of Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve; was a longtime board member of Bucks Beautiful; was one of earliest directors of the Aquetong Watershed Association; served on the board of the Bucks County Audubon Society; and was a founder and chair of the Pidcock Creek Watershed Association.
Bill was a passionate gardener. He had an enormous, organic vegetable garden and spent untold hours digging, planting, weeding, harvesting and washing his produce. He loved nothing more than sharing the proceeds of his garden with others and for many years had a vegetable stand on the road. Friendships were made at the stand and all proceeds of the honesty box – many tens of thousands of dollars over the years – were given to the causes he held dear.
Bill was a driven man with more energy than most. He sprayed the pond with water into the early hours of the morning so the surface would be good for ice skating, used a head light to continue gardening after dark, played ice hockey himself until injured at the age of 78 (he had hoped to play until he was 80!), and worked on his various causes late into many nights.
Bill had strong values and a clear sense of right and wrong. “Do right and fear not,” one of his father’s sayings, was painted on the wall above the sink in the family kitchen and he lived by that motto. In 1968 he was a founding member of and chaired the Scarsdale Action Council for Human Rights – a group of businessmen whose aim was to guide minority business people and “further the cause of human rights for all people.” He actively supported political candidates whose values aligned with his and just this year wrote an opinion piece for The Bucks County Herald hoping to influence others’ thoughts.
Bill had immense patience and unfailing perseverance. He loved to teach, and thought he knew the best way to do many things, but he also loved to learn. He delighted in learning new things or how to do something better, right until the end of his life.
Bill was inquisitive. He loved meeting people and finding out what made them tick, having “authentic” experiences, and exploring new ideas.
He had extremely high standards, demanding a lot of himself and those around him, but he was always there for someone who was struggling or needed support. He was a warm man who was extremely generous and giving. If you needed anything, Bill was there for you.
Family was extremely important to Bill and following his beloved mother’s death in 2004, he and Jane carried on the family tradition of annual reunions – of 50 to 60 people – to make cider and share a meal. As he would have wanted, the most recent reunion took place even though it was just over a week after his death.
Bill adored his wife Jane and was immensely proud of his children and grandchildren. He was happy to have four of the six grandchildren living nearby and he loved watching them play ice hockey, as well as other sports; he also loved the visits from and to his grandchildren who lived abroad. In addition to his own family, many people talked of him as a mentor or a father or grandfather figure – someone who taught them so much and made them feel treasured.
Bill is survived by his wife of 67 years, Jane, their three children, Anne (Martin), Doug and Ned (Marianne); six grandchildren, Katie, Charlie, Kirsten, Jay, Collin and Kel; his older brother Johnny, and his two younger brothers, Ned and Ted. His sister Anne died in 2020.
Bill was thoughtful, caring man who gave so much of himself. He will be sorely missed by his family and all those whose lives he touched.
Donations in Bill’s memory can be made to any of the local charities he supported and gave so much time and leadership to over many years – Bucks Beautiful, Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve, Aquetong Watershed Association, Bucks County Audubon Society, Pidcock Creek Watershed Association, and the Bucks County Historical Society.
A memorial service will be held on Saturday, June 4, 2022 at the MacDowell home in Solebury. If you would like details when they are available, please let the family know through Bill’s email address:
Send condolences to