Wednesday, May 4, 2016

By Sean Messier

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. – Bill Colquhoun is a relatively well-connected name in the

Plattsburgh community, according to his friends, such as Peru High School Math Teacher Lin

Chen. But before Colquhoun moved to Plattsburgh, retired, and began a portrait-drawing hobby

group, he led a life that took him across the country and through a variety of careers.

Colquhoun was born on Long Island, but moved to Stamford, Connecticut age 10, where

his father joined a yachting club that Colquhoun described as the start of one of his most

formative interests: tennis. The club had a tennis team, and it is when he joined this team that he

discovered his passion for the sport, which he plays to this day in Plattsburgh with a plethora of

community members. Part of the reason for this passion was the calling in of then MIT Tennis

Coach Ed Crocker, who Colquhoun described simply as “a wonderful person.” Colquhoun

explained that under Crocker’s guidance, the team improved leaps and bounds, effortlessly

winning regional competitions.

        His experience on the tennis team was more than just enjoyment, too, he said. There is a

lot to be learned about life and about people through tennis, Colquhoun said, including the

concept that some people will always play more fairly than others.

        By the time high school came around, teachers noticed Colquhoun’s shyness and broke

the news to his parents that they did not feel he measured up as college material, so he was sent

to a technical school for the remainder of his high school years.

        Colquhoun defied the warnings of those teachers with ease, however, showing

exceptional academic aptitude and getting accepted into Cornell University, McGill University,

and John Hopkins University, among others – though his final choice was John Hopkins, where

he entered as an oceanography major.

        Colquhoun bounced around multiple ideas for a college career, including journalism, but

realized he excelled at scientific research, which he eventually chose as the focus for his

academic career, eventually graduating and moving on to undertake graduate school at

Rockefeller University and Princeton University.

        Post-graduation, he got a job as an electron microscopist at the University of

Pennsylvania – a career that he would be a large part of his life. He only held this particular

position for a year, though, before deciding that the need to travel the country and see what it had

to offer outweighed the need to stay in one place with one job.

        So he headed to the Florida Keys, where he experienced what he described as one of the

scariest moments of his life after being asked by an acquaintance to crew on a sailing ship.

        Everything was going smoothly until one day, Colquhoun said, when a crewmate,

looking quite sick, motioned for Colquhoun to glance at the sky behind him. The horizon was

unnaturally dark and stormy; the crew had met a hurricane.

Luckily for Colquhoun and the rest of the crew, the ship had a large anchor, and with its

aid, they managed to ride out the hurricane for a day and a half before being picked up by a

helicopter and transported back to the Keys.

After this nerve-wracking situation, Colquhoun decided it was time to see what the rest of

the country had to offer, so he headed west. After a lengthy trip that involved a particularly

strange experience of driving over a road covered in snakes due to flooding in Alabama,

Colquhoun eventually found himself in California. Here, he met two important figures in his life:

Connie Mason, who became his girlfriend for a time and increased his already somewhat present

interest in the arts, and Zeke, who Colquhoun described as a small, yet comically dominant dog

who became an important pet and instilled in him a love for animals.

After the stint in California, the couple headed to the University of Oregon, where

Colquhoun intended to seek out another job as an electron microscopist. Upon arrival at the

university, Colquhoun said, he was decidedly grubby after the time spent traveling, and his

original plan was to simply ask for a catalog, then clean up, then return to seek an interview.

But the university employee that he asked for a catalog immediately introduced him to

the man in charge of jobs, who mentioned that all the janitorial positions had been

filled. Colquhoun made it clear that he had his sights set just a bit higher, and luckily, it appeared

there was an open position. Colquhoun was soon hired, and spent 6 years with the position, aside

from taking a 1-year break to help a friend build a house in Maine.

This was also the time where Colquhoun’s interest in art advanced greatly. He took

classes in art at a local community college, he said, and particularly worked in sculpture and

metalworking, with the latter being a solid source of money for him at the time.

His departure from Oregon was triggered by art, too, when the city of Eugene held an art

gathering where famed artists were invited and given $10,000 to produce a piece for the city.

Colquhoun said that most of the artists ended up drinking the money away, but one in particular

was successful — and ended up influencing Bill’s decision to head back to the east coast.

Multiple plans to study art on the east coast fell through, though, so Colquhoun found

himself leaving a short stay in Boston for another new job, this time in line with his original

scientific interests, at SUNY Albany.

While this job had its benefits, he said, including the ability to do a lot of his own

research, Colquhoun eventually decided that his work was going largely undervalued, and after 8

years, left to become a technical writer. While pursuing this career, he did a variety of jobs

including but not limited to editing a book written by a medium that predicted a number of future

calamities. Colquhoun noted that none of the predictions came true, but he did get paid for the

job. He continued technical writing with a position at the SUNY Research Foundation, but after

having some problems with a boss that showed preferential treatment, he jumped ship before

perusing the final sector of his career path in web design and programming for New York Legal

Publishing Corporation. He soon moved to the Plattsburgh area, where he continued this job

remotely until his retirement.

And for now, much of his time is spent playing tennis, leading the aforementioned

portrait group, which meets at the Champlain Wine Co. to draw portraits of willing volunteers,

gardening, and building relationships with community figures through these activities.

Champlain Wine Company co-owner Colin Read has only known Colquhoun for a year,

but lauds his organization and said he has a knack for keeping his group active and the members


Portrait group member Mary Hinsman described him as both nice and fair, with the latter

hearkening back to the lessons Colquhoun learned during his years playing tennis. She

mentioned that he is socially inclined and easily befriends locals through his kindness.

. Colquhoun said he often donates food locally, and is interested, after developing a love

for animals, in trying to make the portrait group a vessel for donations to the local animal shelter.

After much of his life was spent during turbulent years of war, particularly his Vietnam-era

youth, Colquhoun said he now tries to spend his time as peacefully as possible.

“So here I am doing nothing but peaceful art, hopefully not hurting anyone,” Colquhoun


And based on Lin Chen and Mary Hinsman’s depictions of Colquhoun as an

indispensable, selfless friend and community staple, he’s seeing achieving these wishes with


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