Bill's background in circumpolar scientific cooperation dated back to the 1960s with his work in the International Biological Programme (IBP). Later he built on his connections made through the climate work in the IBP to contribute to the work of CAFF and AMAP in the early days of the Arctic Council as a UK observer representative. During one of these meetings, as he tells the story in his own words from 2006, he suggested the idea of creating a 'University of the Arctic' to a colleague. This spark of an idea quickly led to a proposal from the Canadian government to develop a concept plan and initial feasibility study. Bill, as Chair of the original Task Force charted the way forward through the work of the Circumpolar Universities Association.
Bill's infectious enthusiasm, humanity and good humour was instrumental in engaging governments, scholars, university presidents and indigenous leaders to support the idea of a truly circumpolar university, seizing on the opportunities that shifts in techonolgy and international diplomacy enabled. Within a year of the intiial proposal to the Arctic Council, its Iqaluit Declaration announced "the establishment of the University of the Arctic, a university without walls...".
All of us at UArctic owe an immense gratitude to Bill Heal and his warmth, creativity, and energy that drove us in the organization's early development. It is no exaggeration to say that UArctic would not exist without him. Rest in peace Uncle Bill.