Bill died on Sunday, March 25, 2018 in Victoria B.C., the city he retired to.   He was born in Manitou, Manitoba on June 21, 1936, was raised in Manitoba and northern Ontario and was based for most of his life in Ottawa.  He is survived by his sister Arlene Southern, brother Don and his long-time partner Robert Sterling.

In 1964, Bill joined CUSO and found his calling in international development.  Assigned as a volunteer to a teaching position in Nigeria, he was soon appointed to work for CUSO and led the programme during the tumultuous civil war period.  On return to Canada, he went to work for CUSO taking on increasingly responsible positions until 1974 when he was chosen to become the Executive Director of WUSC, the World University Service of Canada, where he remained until his retirement in 1991.  He played a critical role in building WUSC into the organization it is today, reviving the WUSC International Seminar programme, establishing the WUSC Student Refugee Programme and leading the organization in taking on a major role in the government of Canada’s programmes in more than 20 developing countries.   Bill was committed to supporting Canada’s role abroad and committed to expanding opportunities for Canadians to contribute to and take part in the lives of people in developing countries who were striving for improvement and success.

He was noted for his cooking skills and hospitality and was renowned for the dinners and receptions he hosted for foreign visitors of all walks of life and for the quality of his friendships with colleagues, Canadian and International.

A Memorial Service will be held at St. Barnabas Church at the corner of Belmont and Begbie in Victoria, BC on Friday, April 6, 2018 at 3:00 pm.  There will be a reception in the church hall following the service.

Condolences may be offered to the family below.

McCall Gardens




  • Barbara MacDonald Moore

    Sincere condolences to Robert and the family on the passing of Bill McNeill. Bill opened the door for my work at WUSC in 1978 and provided opportunities both in Canada and overseas that would be a catalyst for a career in international cooperation and development. Bill was a practical visionary and life was never dull for those of us who would rise to challenges that expanded the impact of World University Service of Canada around the world. Diversity and cooperation went hand in hand at headquarters in field offices and in Bill and Robert’s kitchen. He was unique as a leader and mentor and his legacy crosses many continents and cultures.
    Barbara MacDonald Moore, Ottawa

  • Jean-Marc Mangin

    I only Bill a few times but he made a deep impression: from the larger-than-life stories about Bill that I heard from my aunt, a CUSO volunteer in Nigeria in the 1960s, to the probing and challenging questions he asked me and a group of interns about to go overseas for the first time in the mid 1980s. I remember a wonderful meal in Robert and Bill tastefully decorated Ottawa home. Believing in people’s potential, believing In WUSC potential, believing in Canada’s potential: not all of his dreams unfolded as he hoped but Bill opened more doors and inspired more people than he ever knew. My condolences to Robert and his extended family.

  • Gilles and Noemi Latour

    The cliché “One of a kind” was invented for him, and he was anything but a cliché : an original in every way, every day, in every possible situation. Noemi and I loved him as we’ve loved no other friend in the fifty years (+) we’ve been together. As a boss, Bill inspired one to do better and more, always more, for the organisation, for the people who relied on it, but also because he had trusted you to do the job and you just did not want to let him down. So many lives were enriched at his contact, so many smiles (we are smiling – and tearful – as we write this), so many memories that we keep bringing up (among others : a small group of us walking down a narrow dirt lane late at night in a Peruvian Andean village where WUSC was implementing a water project, and suddenly Bill has disappeared ! Where the heck is he ? Where the… we hear him calling from below, sweep the area with our flashlights and find him laughing at the bottom of a hole in the middle of the street where he’s fallen ; we lift him out and he proudly lifts the glass of beer he had been holding when the hole swallowed him and : not a drop was spilled !) — Robert, it is of you we’ve been thinking of since the news of Bill’s death : we grieve with you. — Gilles & Noemi Latour.

  • John Watson and Rosanna Majeed

    Bill will be remembered for his outstanding life as a boss, host, storyteller, and friend. As a boss, he was super entrepreneurial and a keen spotter of promising young people looking for their first job. In a time when it was uncommon do do so, he hired many talented women who found themselves appreciated as professionals while being offered great flexibility in working conditions in order to meet their family obligations. He was a trendsetter in utilizing the “work from home” option to this effect. Because of his leadership, WUSC came out of nowhere to become one of the most dynamic development NGOs in Canada.

    Bill was a consummate host. He believed in the social side of work and often had diplomats and development types over for working meals that were both delightful and productive. Bill’s deep yet witty stories came out of his life and those of his close friends. Despite having seen enough poverty and corruption to make him a cynic in old age, he went in the opposite direction. He was basically an idealist who, in his lifelong work, tried to ameliorate the suffering he had seen overseas.

    Finally, Bill was a wonderful and loyal friend to us both and forever holds a special place in our hearts. Our thoughts are with you, Robert. You have been an interesting and amazing couple and we have learned so much from you both.

  • Caroline McRae

    Bill believed in me at a time when I didn’t. He mentored me, put me in hellish spots to see what I was made of and gave me the chance to turn my life around.

    Warm,compassionate,determined, he was truly one of a kind. RIP.

  • Fiona Morton

    I was saddened to read Mr. McNeil’s obituary in the Globe and Mail. My condolences to Mr. Sterling and Mr McNeil’s family. He and Mr. Sterling were dedicated and loyal customers of Tinkers in Ottawa for many years. Mr McNeil was a very kind and generous gentleman with great cooking skills and
    culinary knowledge.. A joy to see on a Saturday morning. I will always remember my favourite customer.

  • Tim Brodhead

    I am sorry not to be able to be present on Friday at the Memorial service, but I shall certainly raise a glass to toast the many years I worked with Bill in CUSO and while he was at WUSC. He was my first ‘boss’ when I was appointed Director of the program in Nigeria, and then West Africa way back in the ’60s (!) – although ‘boss’ doesn’t really describe a relationship that for me – like so many others – involved work, yes, but also so much laughter and long, delicious meals, political arguments, story-telling about ridiculous situations we found ourselves in, endless car journeys through the ‘bush’, etc. Croquet on the Supreme Court lawn on Canada Day with thermos bottles full of martinis, demos outside the S. African embassy, picnics in the Azores… Bill had a gift for friendship and unbounded hospitality. My thoughts are especially with Robert, who abetted and facilitated so much of the enjoyment we all had.

  • Bob and Helen Black

    Dear Arlene, Don and Robert, It is with great sadness that Helen and I read of Bill’s passing. My association with Bill was through his strong commitment to the many Development Programs at WUSC. When I decided to leave CIDA in 1986, Bill”recruited” me (over lunch) to take an overseas assignment as the WUSC Field Director in Indonesia. I gladly accepted and enjoyed 6 years at WUSC working and sharing ideas and stories with Bill until his retirement in 1991. Bill was the ultimate host and Helen and I enjoyed some wonderful occasions at Bill’s home. He was a great manager and put his faith and trust in all of his staff. Although i stayed with WUSC until 1995, it was just not the same without Bill. We will be thinking of Bill and all of you this Friday. God Bless.

  • Tom Stephens

    My wife Sue and I followed Bill as teachers at Santa Crux Secondary School in Umuahia, Nigeria. That was in 1965, and we were impressed that CUSO, which was promoting Bill to a staff position in the country, felt they had to offer two teachers for one! Over the next two years, we enjoyed many visits from the ever-friendly Bill as he made his way around Nigeria, solving problems and keeping up volunteers’ spirits. A few years later, Bill was back in Ottawa and interviewed me for a position with CUSO. Lunch at his place was part of my visit, and I still remember being impressed with how he set the table, prepared a nice meal, and kept cheerfully chatting the whole time. Canada’s good reputation in international development owes much to Bill and others like him. Condolences from both of us.

  • Ruth Compton Brouwer

    My sympathy to Robert, and to Bill’s sister and brother. Robert and Bill both helped me when I was working on a book about CUSO (published in 2013), first in emails and then with an interview with Bill when they were visiting friends here in Toronto. It is a great thing to have led a worthwhile, useful life, as Bill did through his work in international development.

  • Chris Bryant

    As a former colleague of Bill’s at CUSO, I was sad to learn of his death. He made a huge contribution to Canada’s role in international development back when NGOs like CUSO and WUSC mattered. He was also a generous host and I fondly remember tasty meals at his home in Ottawa. Condolences to Robert.

  • Trudi and Norman Prelypchan

    Dear Robert,

    We are truly sorry for your loss. We knew Bill as a soft-spoken, genuinely warm -hearted man, always with a kind word for us and always with a twinkle in his eye to match his sense of humour.
    It is with sincere regret that we are unable to attend his service.
    Our thoughts will be with you.

  • Walter and Barbara McLean

    As friends of long-standing, Bill held a special place in our hearts. We spent a great deal of time together – in Nigeria, parts of Africa, in the Azores and in Victoria. There is now a permanent hole in our hearts but we are so very grateful for his hospitality, his wisdom, sense of humour and well known generosity.

    To Robert and his extended family we send deep sympathy.

    No doubt many friends from CUSO and WUSC days will be at the Memorial Service. Our home in Ontario seems so very far away.

  • Shelagh Heeney

    A life well lived. A very special man who was admired and loved by so many. His sense of humour and his cooking skills were unequalled. What a great hole he leaves but oh! what wonderful memories! I send my condolences and sympathy to you Robert. Thinking of you.

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