Willliam J. Cavanaugh – June 27, 1929 – July 14, 2019

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of William J. “Bill” Cavanaugh on July 14, 2019 at his home in Hopkinton, Massachusetts.  Bill will be much missed by his family and colleagues here at Cavanaugh Tocci, and by his many clients and professional colleagues.

It is hard to highlight the more significant and remembered contributions Bill has made in his personal and professional life.  For Bill, no distinction was ever made between friends, family, colleagues, clients, strangers—they were all people in his eyes, all equally valued and held with deep regard.  On meeting Bill, from that moment on, one knew that they had a lifelong friend.  With Bill, personal and professional can’t be separated, they were one. 

Perhaps, most notably, William J. Cavanaugh was the 2019 recipient of the Gold Medal, the highest award given by the Acoustical Society of America for distinctive contributions to the Society and to the profession of acoustics.  Although deserving of this and all other honors given to him, he always resisted cooperating in assembling dossiers of his professional credentials.  He would always say, “I have enough awards.  Give it to somebody else.”  Pressing him on this only led to his listing others that should be honored instead. 

Although, physically not well enough to attend, the Gold Medal Award was bestowed upon Bill at the 177th meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in Louisville, Kentucky in May 2019.  The encomium was prepared and read by K. Anthony Hoover, a long-time colleague and friend of Bill’s.  The Medal was accepted on Bill’s behalf by Gregory C. Tocci, his business partner of 42 years.  In June, colleagues from Cavanaugh Tocci re-presented the award to him at his home in Hopkinton, MA. 

A Short Biography

William J. Cavanaugh was the second of seven children born on June 27, 1929 to Francis X. and Catherine M. (Hennessey) Cavanaugh in Dorchester, Massachusetts.  As an elementary school child with a severe case of asthma, Bill moved to Charlestown with his grandmother at his doctor’s recommendation.  Though having a happy childhood, he grew seeing the ravages of the depression and noted how federal programs were the much-needed safety net for so many families in his neighborhood.  This was a seed that grew into a life-long political conviction on the need to protect the struggling working class.  As an enterprising youngster living thorough these hard times, he gave tours of the Bunker Hill Monument to visiting tourists.  We all remember his “schtick” explaining the Monument’s history, the number of steps to the top, etc.  He loved recounting it and had fond memories of his times as an unofficial Bunker Hill Monument guide. 

Bill graduated from Boston English High School, “the first public high school in America” as he would tell us, in 1946 with honors.  With his father’s encouragement, he applied to and graduated in 1951 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a Bachelor of Architecture Degree and was awarded the American Institute of Architects Student Medal. 

After graduation from MIT, Bill was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army and was ordered to active duty where he served as unit training and staff officer with the 6th Armored Division and the Army Corp of Engineers at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri.  Though expecting to be assigned to the Korean conflict, he spent most of the war at Ft. Leonard Wood in various teaching positions, among them Chief of the Rifle Instruction Committee and a leader in Physical Training (PT).  After leading a troop train from Missouri to Seattle for embarking to the Korean front, he was ordered back to Missouri as his active duty was to end shortly afterwards.  Following his active duty tour, he continued as a reserve officer rising to the rank of Colonel in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and retiring after more than 30 years of service. 

While at MIT as an undergraduate, he met Louise Virginia (Ginny) Huff.  At the time Ginny was working on the Nautilus Project at Jackson and Moreland in Boston.  On hearing from a friend that MIT was hiring, and as her father, Commander Huff had a top-secret clearance, she was readily given clearance for work on a project at MIT.  Bill and Ginny were married while Bill was stationed at Fr. Leonard Wood.  Ginny attended many meetings of the Acoustical Society of America over the years.  They very much enjoyed their Amtrak adventures from their home in Natick, Massachusetts to meetings all around the country.  Sadly, Ginny passed away at the age of 86 in 2010.

On Bill and Ginny’s return home from Ft. Leonard Wood and declining an offer for graduate study at the Yale School of Architecture, Bill joined the staff of Polaroid.  Shortly afterwards, while walking through Harvard Square, he met Robert B. Newman, a professor at MIT who taught the school’s course in Architectural Acoustics.  Bob encouraged Bill to consider employment with his newly formed firm of Bolt, Beranek, and Newman (BBN).  He joined the firm in 1951 and rose to Manager of its Architectural Technologies Division with a staff of 80. 

In 1970 he left BBN to begin his own professional practice.  In addition, he began a long part-time career serving as adjunct faculty at Rhode Island School of Design, Boston Architectural Center (now Boston Architectural College), Harvard School of Public Health, and Cornell School of Architecture.  His days teaching at Ft. Leonard Wood, teaching classes in architectural acoustics at MIT for Bob Newman, and serving as adjunct faculty at area universities, enriched his ability to communicate concepts in architectural acoustics to clients with whom he worked world-wide.  Teaching for Bill was an essential element of consulting, and he encouraged his staff to seek teaching positions as an essential form of career development. 

In 1971, he and Dr. Lawrence G. Copley formed Cavanaugh Copley Associates, at first to provide consulting on a large hospital project in Wisconsin.  This grew to several large architectural and environmental projects in many places.  In 1974, Gregory C. Tocci, a recent graduate of Tufts and MIT was hired as a Staff Consultant to assist with the growing workload.  But as the workload of Cavanaugh Copley Associates grew, it began to outgrow its original vision as an informal team effort on occasional projects.  It was then that Bill and Lawrie closed Cavanaugh Copley, but remained close friends and collaborated on many projects over the following years. 

On announcing the closing of Cavanaugh Copley, Bill invited Greg Tocci to establish a firm of their own, leading to the formation of Cavanaugh Tocci Associates in September 1975.  In 1982 the partnership was incorporated with its president being Greg Tocci until 2013, when Greg stepped down.  Cavanaugh Tocci is now headed by Douglas H. Bell, its current president.  Much of its remarkable stability over the years is owed to Bill Cavanagh who provided its professionalism and forward thinking. 

That stability and forward thinking extended beyond BBN and Cavanaugh Tocci to the entire profession of acoustical consulting.  While at BBN and attending meetings of the National Council of Acoustical Consultants (NCAC), members of NCAC very much appreciated Bill’s contribution but were a bit wary of BBN.  With a staff in the 100s expanding into related fields of acoustics, the predominantly very small member firms of NCAC mistakenly viewed BBN only as competition instead of leadership in a new and growing industry.  Countering this, Bill promoted collegiality in NCAC, leading them to see, that in no small part, BBN’s leadership in acoustical consulting developed a building design consulting specialty that was growing faster than the building design field itself.  The growth of NCAC since its inception in 1962 is clear evidence of this. 

Bill’s papers written and presented at Acoustical Society of America and Institute of Noise Control Engineering (INCE) meetings is pages in length.  He probably was most proud of his seminal paper “Speech Privacy in Buildings” coauthored with Ranger Farrell, Parker Hirtle and Bill Watters and published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America in the April 1962 (Vol. 34, No. 4, pp. 475‑492).  To this day, it is the foundation of speech privacy methods and standards.  In addition to the ASA 2019 Gold Medal, Bill is the recipient of the Wallace Clement Sabine Medal (2006), the C. Paul Boner Medal (1983), Laymon Miller Award (2015), Distinguished Service Citations of the Boston Architectural Center (1985) and the Acoustical Society of America (1994), and Member of the MIT ROTC Hall of Fame (1992).

Years in retirement were spent playing golf, traveling with family, and with classmates touring architectural relics including homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, as well as continuing to attend local Greater Boston Chapter meetings of the ASA and ASA national meetings from time to time. 

Bill and Ginny had five children Joan M. Cavanaugh (Belmont, MA), 1Lt. William J. Cavanaugh Jr. (USAF, deceased 1982), Mark A. Cavanaugh (Salem, MA), Lauren C. Alves (Ashland, MA), and Dr. John W. Cavanaugh (Columbus, OH).  Bill was also very much a part in the lives of his 9 grandchildren and 7 great grandchildren.  Bill’s faith in God sustained him through good times and hard times, especially those in losing his son Bill in 1982 and Ginny in 2010.  Bill was a member of St. Theresa of Lisieux Church in Sherborn, MA.  He is fondly remembered by so many of us who knew him.