A Western English graduate who went on to become a preeminent figure in interior design has left $10 million to support students in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities.
William (Bill) Hodgins, BA’54, died in 2019, bestowing the faculty with its largest gift to date. His donation will fund more than 16 scholarships each year, in perpetuity.
The bequest extends the legacy of Hodgins’ contributions to his alma mater, honouring his mother Neen, who was unable to pursue her dream of studying English at Western because she couldn’t afford to do so. She worked hard to ensure it was a viable option for her son.
The first in his family to attend university, Hodgins embraced his Western experience as an English major, a cheerleader and member of the Purple Spur Spirit Club. As a donor, he wanted to give to others who otherwise couldn’t afford the same opportunity.
Through his first gift more than 15 years ago, Hodgins touched the lives of more than 90 students studying English at Western. Now his generosity will extend to students across all arts and humanities programs through additional merit and needs-based scholarships.
Hodgins’ bequest will generate $560,000 every year to support scholarships across the spectrum, helping high-achieving, first-generation, Indigenous and international students with financial need through entrance, continuing and graduate awards.
“Support for the arts and humanities has never been more vital,” said Western president Alan Shepard. “In these uncertain and rapidly changing times, humanities graduates bring empathy, imagination, perspective, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills to the table. Bill’s generosity will open doors for students with diverse interests and backgrounds to pursue their passion and create positive change in the world. We are incredibly grateful to him for entrusting Western with this transformative gift.”
Hodgins found his English degree provided a strong footing for his career in residential design. He earned a reputation for creating thoughtful, comfortable and elegant interiors by working closely with his clients to understand their tastes and needs.
He shared his design approach with Stephen M. Salny, author of William Hodgins Interiors, noting, “My clients are very involved in the work we do, so their houses reflect their preferences. I do it for them, not for me.”
Hodgins is representative of what Michael Milde, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities sees in many alumni, who go on to careers in a vast variety of fields.
“We train the mind to face the world, with critical and creative thinking tied to communication skills that span the range of human expression,” Milde said. “This gives our students the ability to work and relate well with others, to put themselves imaginatively into another’s shoes and work toward solutions.”
Drawn to design
After graduating from Western, Hodgins went to England, where he worked for a British ambassador. He spent time in France before returning to Canada to work for the Hudson Bay Company in a management training program, and then in Montreal, designing brochures for Avon cosmetics.
At 30, he pursued his lifelong dream and applied to the Parsons School of Design in New York.
After graduating with honours in 1963, he worked as an assistant to design legends Sister Parish and Albert Hadley. He then moved to Boston, where, by his late 30s, he became president and owner of William Hodgins Inc., an interior design firm focused exclusively on residential design.
Long before the existence of the internet and online shopping, Hodgins travelled the world searching for the right pieces to suit the homes owned by a loyal list of clients, including American ambassadors and a Saudi prince.
Recognized as one of the “deans of American interior decoration,” and “the last of the great old-guard decorators,” Hodgins was inducted into Interior Design’s Hall of Fame in 1987 and was recognized as a designer of distinction by the American Society of Interior Designers for “his outstanding contributions toward achieving design excellence and advancing the profession of interior design.”
His residential commissions have been celebrated in the pages of Architectural Digest, House & Garden and House Beautiful, highlighting his signature pallets of whites, creams and jewel-toned lush furnishings. It is an aesthetic that stands the test of time, with his work appearing on countless Pinterest sites today.
Upon his passing, industry insiders lamented the loss of a design giant, but his colleagues commented most on the care Hodgins took with his clients, and how he expected those he mentored to take the same approach.
In addition to learning “the importance of antique furnishings coming up for auction, or quirky pieces that would be ‘just right’ for ‘Madame X,’” one wrote, “I learned (from him), importantly, of listening carefully to a client, what they were communicating and how they live, hope and dream.”
Another colleague observed how the six-foot-four Hodgins “gave generously to what he thought was right, with his time, consideration and financial resources. He expected the best from you for his clients. He was a big man in stature, with a heart to match.”
Jeff O’Hagan, vice-president (university advancement) agrees.
“What I remember most is Bill’s desire to help and make a difference. He was a fascinating, wonderful person and truly engaged with Western. We are fortunate to count him among our most generous, thoughtful alumni and grateful for the continued impact he will have on the lives of our students.”
Western will mark this donation with a celebration of the arts and humanities. The university will also name an outdoor study space in front of University College as a lasting memorial to Hodgins’ generous gift.
Scholarships funded by the estate of William Hodgins
Neen Hodgins International President’s Entrance Scholarship: 1 at $80,000 ($20,000 per year for 4 recipients)
Neen Hodgins Entrance Scholarship: 1 at $80,000 ($20,000 per year for 4 recipients)
Neen Hodgins Continuing Admission Scholarship: 6 at $ 5,000, continuing for 4 years
Neen Hodgins Indigenous Continuing Admissions Scholarship: 1 at $10,000 continuing for 4 years
Neen Hodgins Graduating Scholarship: 1 at $2,000
Funds will also support the Neen Hodgins Award and the Neen Hodgins Bursary (Number and value as funds permit)
For more information on the eligibility requirements and criteria for these awards, please contact the Office of the Registrar