On the evening of 12th October, Professor Bill Willmott passed away.
Bill Willmott was born in 1932 in Chengdu, Sichuan, the son of Canadian missionaries working in the field of education. Through his parents’ connections, at the age of eight he met Rewi Alley in Chengdu, and maintained a friendship for the rest of Rewi’s life.
His academic pathway lead in 1973 to his appointment as Professor of Sociology at the University of Canterbury until his retirement, when he continued his research on the Chinese diaspora, focusing on the Pacific.
He was National President of NZCFS from 1989 to 1994, and again from 1997 to 2002, and then retained his position on National Executive for several years. He was made a life member of NZCFS in 2002.
Chinese name Yun Dazhong,（云达忠）, Bill also served as a vice-chair of Gung Ho, (ICCIC) for a number of years from 1987, when he played an important role in rejuvenating the organisation. He successfully sought NZ government funding for cooperative development projects in Hebei province. In 1998, Gung Ho awarded him the Rewi Alley Honorary Award for Promoters of Gung Ho Cooperatives, and in 2015 the Gung Ho International Medal. He was also an honorary principal of Shandan Bailie School.
In 2001 he was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (CNZM), and in 2002 he was awarded the Chinese Government Friendship Ambassador Award.
His contribution to New Zealand – China relations, to friendship and to understanding of China are of the highest order. His presentations to NZCFS members and other audiences on various aspects of China, China relationships, Rewi Alley and other topics, were very well received and highly respected.
He will be missed dearly, and remembered for his leadership, intellect, knowledge, and compassion as a friend of China.
Within hours of informing colleagues in China, there has been an outpouring of respect and condolences from colleagues there. Messages from Lin Songtian, president of National Youxie; Michael Crook, on behalf of members of Gung Ho; and Lanzhou City University Rewi Alley Research Centre are copied below in English.
A message from He Liliang, widow of Huang Hua, former foreign minister of China, who was a great friend of Rewi Alley and of Bill Willmott, is copied here:
“Mr Yun Dazhong is my rare sincere friend. His death made me very sad. I will miss him forever.”
He Liliang met with Bill and Di on their last visit to China. The photo of the plum blossom painting attached is by He Liliang (who became a painter later in life) and is proudly displayed in Bill and Di’s home.
“Dear President Dave Bromwich
We are shocked to learn that Chinese people’s old friend Mr. Bill Willmott, former president of New Zealand China Friendship Society (NZCFS) and Friendship Ambassador, passed away on October 12, 2021. On behalf of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC), I would like to express my deep condolences and sincere sympathies to his family and friends at NZCFS.
Mr. Bill Willmott was born and grew up in China. He loved China and the Chinese people his whole life, and was devoted to the friendship cause of the Chinese and New Zealand people. During the 20 years as branch and national president of NZCFS, he paid numerous visits to China and worked fruitfully to enhance New Zealand people’s understanding of China as well as bilateral exchanges and cooperation. He also carried forward the internationalism of Rewi Alley by leading the NZCFS to support Gung Ho development and Gansu Shandan Bailie School. His outstanding contribution has been highly recognised by the Chinese and New Zealand people. On September 13, 2002, he was awarded the honorary title of Friendship Ambassador by the CPAFFC.
Mr. Bill Willmott’s death is a great loss to the cause of China-New Zealand people-to-people friendship. We pay high respect and sincere gratitude to Mr. Willmott for his devotion to enhancing friendship between our two peoples throughout his life, and we will always remember his friendship and great contribution to the Chinese people.
Sincere condolences to our forever friend! May he rest in peace!
–Amb. Lin Songtian
President, Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries”
“We are sad to hear of the passing of Prof. Bill Willmott. On behalf of ICCIC, I offer sincere condolences to Dianne and members of his family.
This is a big loss to ICCIC as well as China and New Zealand. Bill Willmott was an enthusiastic supporter of Gung Ho, he helped to bring ICCIC back to life in 1987 and served as its Vice Chair for many years. He gave ICCIC generous support, guidance and encouragement, which we shall never forget and for which we are truly grateful.
He shall forever live in our hearts!
–Michael Crook Chair，for all of ICCIC-Gung Ho”
“Condolences New Zealand-China Friendship Association:
We are shocked to learn that Professor Yun Dazhong, the former chairman of the New Zealand-China Friendship Association, has passed away. We are deeply saddened and mournful!
Professor Yun Dazhong once touched and personally touched the love and glorious personality of Mr. Louis Alley in his childhood. Over the years, he has been adhering to the spirit of Alley, inheriting Alley’s style, enthusiastic about the cause of work, and committed to the friendship between China and New Zealand. He has made outstanding contributions to the friendship and well-being of the people of China and New Zealand.
Professor Yun Dazhong has served in the New China Friendship Association for many years. In 2002, the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries awarded him the honorary title of “People’s Friendship Envoy”. In 1998 and 2015, China Gung Ho International committee awarded him the “Gung Ho Movement Rewi Alley Medal of Honor” and the “Gung Ho International Medal”
Professor Yun Dazhong is knowledgeable, humble, firm and persistent. Over the years, he has worked hard to promote friendly exchanges between Lanzhou City College and New Zealand, enthusiastically supported the work of the Rewi Alley Research Center, and selflessly helped our school to study and visit people in New Zealand.
He embodies internationalism, friendliness, tolerance, and selfless fraternity. The precious support and encouragement he gave us will never be forgotten. The death of Professor Yun Dazhong is a loss to the cause of friendship between China and New Zealand, as well as a significant loss to the cause of Rewi Alley! The Rewi Alley Research Center deeply mourns Professor Yun Dazhong and extends sincere condolences to his wife, relatives and friends.
He has passed away but his spirit will last forever. We would like to express our sincere condolences.
–Lanzhou City University
Rewi Alley Research Center
October 13, 2021″