Remembering Bill Burrell
How Bill’s Hill Got Its Name
Story by John Thomas
A favorite son of Ellicottville has left our midst. Dean William Burrell died at home last Thursday night. “Bill” as he was known to all his friends, and he had a great many, was a fixture around St. John’s Episcopal Church, and HoliMont. A graduate of Ellicottville Central School, except two years obtaining a degree in Hotel Management from Paul Smith’s College and six years in the military, he lived his entire life in Ellicottville. Bill grew up skiing and saw first-hand the development of Ellicottville into a major ski town. He started skiing at Fish Hill, then Greer Hill. When Holiday Valley was created, he skied there too, then went on to ski at HoliMont. He was a 25-year member of the National Ski Patrol, and the HoliMont Ski Patrol. He was the manager of the Harness Shop Restaurant, in what is now Madigan’s. Moving into the family business, Burrell owned and operated the Burrell Cutlery Outlet Store. Later he went to work at the Casino, mostly working night shifts, making sure guest’s rooms were ready and tending to their needs.
A man of many passions, ski patrol at HoliMont was one of them. He so loved his regular Monday gig patrolling the Sunset Run, the other patrol members took to calling it “Bill’s hill.” Steve Slater, who was on ski patrol with Bill, remembers the “gentlest care” Bill gave injured skiers, especially children. The Monday Crew, as they called themselves, used to gather at noon for “patroller conference,” otherwise known as lunch in the patrol room. One of them was usually in charge of procuring the food. One Monday it was Bill’s turn. The week previous he had been asking what type pizza the other patrollers wanted. On the designated Monday the patrollers walked in expecting pizza, and there was Bill carving a full course Prime Rib dinner for them. “He’d set us up!” Slater recalls with a laugh.
At his funeral service at St. John’s, Father Mike Lonto recalled Bill’s many years of service to the church. In giving a homily to Bill, Father Lonto, his voice at times breaking with emotion, recalled how every Saturday Bill would mow the Church’s lawn. Then he’d “sit on the porch and have a beer, change and come over for Saturday service.” Father Lonto recalled how Burrell would always wear his HoliMont ski patrol ID tag to church. “It’s part of who I am,” he would say. One of his favorite things to do was ring Gabriel, the historic bell in the Church’s bell tower. Ellicottville’s history was another of his passions. Bill had read all of his grandfather’s journals and knew the history of each family and building in the Village. Small wonder he was a member of the Historical Society.
Tending to people’s needs was a big part of who Bill Burrell was. Village residents recall he was never too busy to stop and have a conversation. He had the gift of gab, and would always be willing to pass the time of day whether they were a friend or stranger. He was a caregiver for his aunts Anne Brooks, and Peggy Harrison and his mother, Jane. He was like a brother to his cousin Donna Brooks. It was about two years ago when she suspected something was amiss with Bill and took him to the hospital. He was diagnosed with Mantle Cell Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. As his brother John Burrell recalled during the service, his voice also breaking with emotion, “Bill lived with cancer.” It was an acknowledgment that Bill had endured radiation, chemotherapy, transfusions, and endless tests, without so much as a word of complaint. He was grateful for and thanked his many caregivers: relatives and the Visiting Nurse’s Association. Donna Brooks had taken him in and cared for him, also without complaint, during the last two years of his life. On Thursday the 18th, surrounded by family and friends Bill Burrell died peacefully. He was a lover of big band era music, skiing, travel, cooking, people and life, and was very much a part of our community. He will be missed.