Dr. William “Bill” Hrudey was remembered as kind, giving, gruff and inspirational at a memorial in his honor on Wednesday afternoon at the University College of the Cayman Islands, where he was director of the campus observatory.
Mr. Hrudey, 76, died Feb. 22 at his home after a brief battle with cancer.
“The university college has lost a great source of inspiration,” said UCCI President Roy Bodden. “He was a great friend, perhaps the greatest supporter I had.”
In his 21 years in the Cayman Islands, Mr. Hrudey left his mark in a number of ways related to the sciences. He established and helped promote the Rotary-sponsored science fair. He created the first regional conference for science, technology, engineering and math, the fourth of which was held last October. The first William Hrudey Caribbean Astronomy Conference will be held on Grand Cayman May 23.
Mr. Hrudey also ventured into craftwork and the arts, building model ships, including a model of the Goldfield, which is on display at the Cayman Turtle Centre. Photos of the sun, taken by Mr. Hrudey’s telescope at UCCI, are currently on display at the National Gallery.
But Mr. Hrudey is probably best known for building the astronomical observatory on the UCCI campus along with the telescope it houses.
An avid astronomer, Mr. Hrudey built several telescopes during his lifetime. The lenses were the only parts of the instruments that he did not machine himself.
His love of astronomy and his wish to pass that enthusiasm on to others was a common thread in the stories friends and colleagues shared during Wednesday’s event, which was held in the college’s Cascade Room lecture hall.
Mr. Bodden said the telescope on campus was the subject of the first conversation he ever had with Mr. Hrudey. Mr. Bodden was talking to the local Rotary Club about UCCI.
“At the end of my address, this man came up and said, ‘I like your vision. Would you like a telescope for your college?’” Mr. Bodden said. He and others described Mr. Hrudey as a man constantly at work on one project or another.
John Chamberlain, a friend who flew in from Boston, said the first time he met Mr. Hrudey, he spent the day watching him build a clock: “To see Bill doing this intricate work was fascinating. We spent the afternoon doing machine shop stuff in Bill’s garage. Then we sat in his library and talked about medicine and surgery.”
Mr. Hrudey was a surgeon in Canada before coming to the Cayman Islands in 1997. His role here, however, was one more focused on education.
Kristel Sanchez, spokeswoman for UCCI, said she worked closely with Mr. Hrudey on putting together the STEM conferences hosted by the campus.
“Reaching for the stars is exactly what Dr. Bill did and what he inspired others to do,” Ms. Sanchez said, before speaking to him directly. “I believe you are enjoying your cognac and pipe somewhere among the stars.”
Longtime friend Lance Parthè said he took comfort in thinking that Mr. Hrudey now has the answers to all the things he wondered about during life. During the 20 years they were friends, he said he and Mr. Hrudey would often sit for hours in back of Mr. Hrudey’s house at an outside table – a table he called their time machine spaceship – talking about everything from the latest project they were working on to philosophy.
They often did not see eye-to-eye when they worked together, he said.
“We were at each other’s throats the whole time, but we did it with love and care,” he said. “He was a father figure, a comedian, a best friend.”
UCCI’S Mr. Bodden said it will be important to maintain and expand upon the things that Mr. Hrudey set in motion.
“We are going to keep his legacy alive, because Bill deserves to live on,” he said.