Dr. William H. Gaasch, 84, beloved son, brother, husband, father and grandfather, passed away on Friday, February 25, 2022, in Burlington, Massachusetts.
Bill was born on October 24, 1937, to Frank and Helen (Johnson) Gaasch in Alpena, Michigan. Calling home to both Auburndale, MA, and Alpena, William was most proud of his Luxembourg heritage, and had recently legally reclaimed his Luxembourg nationality. He married Rita Ann Kline on September 19, 1964, and they raised three children, William Hugh of Concord, MA, Heidi Ingrid of Glenwood, MD, and Derek Henri of Bozeman, MT.
Bill graduated from Alpena High School in 1955, attended Alpena Community College, and completed a bachelor of science degree in chemistry (1959) and a doctorate in medicine (1963) at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He served as a flight surgeon in the U.S. Navy (1963-1966), completed an internship at the Naval Hospital in Chelsea, Massachusetts (1964), residency training in internal medicine at Boston University (1967-1969), and a fellowship in cardiology at Tufts Medical Center (1969-1971).
Bill was a superb clinician, researcher, professor, and mentor who quickly rose to the top of his profession. Over a career that spanned nearly 60 years, he held several faculty positions, including Chief of Cardiology at the Boston Veterans Affairs Hospital, where he was the principal investigator for nationally funded basic research into cardiac function. More recently, he was a cardiologist at Lahey Clinic with academic appointments at the University of Massachusetts and Tufts Medical Schools. Bill achieved international recognition for his fundamental research into the physiology of the heart, and as much as any investigator, changed the basic paradigm of how clinicians think about heart failure syndrome. He published over 220 journal articles and book chapters, and he co-edited three textbooks. Bill was a sought-after lecturer, editorialist, and influential member of Cardiology societal guidelines committees; it is not an overstatement that much of contemporary clinical practice in cardiology has been directly influenced by his work. His colleagues were struck not only by his keen, incisive intellect, his ability to express complicated concepts clearly and succinctly, but above all, by his Midwestern common touch and his ability to connect with patients and students.
Perhaps Bill’s greater legacy is the long list of memories and experiences he cultivated amongst the cedar trees of northern Michigan at their cottage at Lake Esau in Presque Isle. With precision-placed boulders and cedar trees (thanks to his big yellow tractor), a sandy beach, a ‘natural’ lily pond, and a well manicured bocce court, he transformed the lot adjacent to his parent’s cottage into a home where he and Rita entertained family and friends and which he dreamed would be a family homestead forever. Days were typically spent exploring the ‘back 40,’ ‘improving nature,’ sailing, water skiing, and tinkering on any number of obscure projects.
To truly understand and appreciate Bill, one must sit on the lakeside deck on Pioneer Trail on a summer evening and enjoy a glass of wine and perhaps a cigar while telling stories or discussing ‘important’ matters of the day. Finally, while we will never be certain as to his criteria for achieving the top of the ‘Champ Board,’ we are confident he has secured that spot today.
Bill is survived by his wife of 57 years, Rita (Kline) Gaasch; his brothers, Jack and Jim; his sister, Mary Beth; his children, Hugh, Heidi, and Derek and their spouses; and his seven grandchildren, Leila, Henry, Clara, Will, Signe, Inga, and Anders.
A Mass in his honor will be celebrated Saturday, March 12, 2022 at 11 AM in St. Bernard Parish, 1523 Washington St., West Newton. A private ceremony and burial will be held this summer in Presque Isle, Michigan.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Alpena Community College Foundation for the William H. & Rita Kline Gaasch Scholarship. Gifts may be made online: https://discover.alpenacc.edu/donate.php
or mail a check to ACC Foundation, 665 Johnson St., Alpena, MI 49707.