William S. Kanaga
August 2, 1925 – July 21, 2019
William S. “Bill” Kanaga, Age 93, died peacefully at home surrounded by his family Sunday. Son of Clinton W. and Ruth (Smith) Kanaga of Kansas City, MO. He is survived by his wife of 67 years, Sarah “Sally” (Rowe), sons Chris, his wife Susie (Shackleford) and Clint, his wife Vicky (Elmer), also of Orleans, MA; he was predeceased by daughter Ann in 2018; also survived by grandsons John and his wife Stacy (Sippel), Br. Anthony and Joshua of Orleans; granddaughters Courtney (Fogarty) of Marion, MA, and Lindsey of Orleans; and six great-grandchildren.
Born in Wichita, KS on August 2, 1925, Bill’s family moved to Kansas City, where he attended Border Star Elementary School. He graduated from Southwest High School at age 16, and at age 17 attended Officer Candidate School, and began serving in the U.S. Navy at the Great Lakes. He rose to the rank of LT (jg) and was sent to the Pacific in World War II. Ferry troops home to the States, he rode out a typhoon and was the last man standing through it all.
Bill attended the University of Kansas, where he was an active member of Phi Delta Theta fraternity, and worked as a spotter for the radio broadcast of KU football games, graduating with a B.S. in Metallurgical Engineering in 1947. Forever a strong advocate for the University, both of Jayhawk athletic and educational programs, he was later often asked to speak to gatherings of the business school and other major university events, later receiving the University’s highest honor, the Distinguished Service Award.
After college when Bill decided to pursue a business career, he attended Babson College near Boston, where he was awarded a degree in Business Administration. Soon after graduation he interviewed for a job as a junior accountant at Arthur Young & Company in Kansas City, one of the then “Big Eight” worldwide public accounting firms in 1948, and was asked to go to New York City for training. Kanaga lived in a single room in a boarding house and rode the subway to work – thus was born a career that spanned five decades in New York with one firm. He never returned to work in his hometown of Kansas City.
Three years later while on vacation with his sister Mary Louise and her family, at Epworth Heights in Ludington, MI, Bill went to the tennis courts one day and met his future wife Sally. In the days following, when he failed to show up at the cottage for many hours, Mary Louise commented that she thought the lovebug had bitten her little brother. And so it was, for Bill and Sally married the following year in 1952, and they returned to Epworth every summer thereafter with their growing family, enjoying Lake Michigan, tennis, activities, and their many lifelong friendships.
One of Bill’s partners at Arthur Young & Company (or “AY”which later became Ernst & Young), recently commented that, besides being one of the finest human beings he ever knew, was also the finest CPA, with the quickest grasp of the issues and the broadest set of skills he ever encountered. He was also one of the hardest working men, feeling it was important to be one of the first into the office every day. He became a Partner of the firm in 1960, rising to Managing Partner in 1972, Chairman in 1977, and Advisory Board Chairman after his retirement in 1985. While living in suburban New York and then Connecticut in the 1950’s-70’s, Bill and Sally became members of Stanwich Congregational Church, and many life-changing events began to take place. During the early 70’s Bill and Sally became good friends with Eddie Waxer, a born-again Jewish Christian evangelist with Campus Crusade for Christ. Through Eddie they met the head of Campus Crusade, Bill Bright, and traveled with him on tours of Yugoslavia and Africa. Later with the full permission of his partners, Kanaga became the Chairman of Campus Crusades’ “Here’s Life” campaign in New York City. Many people began to find new meaning to their lives in those months, and thus Bill began receiving requests from U.S. Mayors and Governors to speak at their Annual Prayer Breakfasts. He spoke at many of those events, and in one speech he told of a retreat he’d attended on Cape Cod at the Community of Jesus, and that during a cooperative work time was asked to spread goat manure on the young carrot plants. At the end of his talk when Bill asked if there were any questions, a woman asked indignantly, “Didn’t they know who you were?” With a big grin Kanaga replied, “Oh yes, they definitely knew who I was!” That was one of the things Bill loved about the Community, that everyone there was just one of the bunch. After attending a number of retreats at the Community, Bill and Sally became members, building a home on the shores of Cape Cod Bay and moving there permanently in 1982. Bill made his solemn profession on November 25, 1990.
Bill Kanaga’s other professional achievements were numerous. After serving as Board Member on the American Institute of CPA’s from 1974-83, he became Chairman in 1980-81, and was awarded a Gold Medal for his outstanding achievements in 1989. As Chairman he spoke widely about the need for ethics in business, and was instrumental in the establishment of ethics courses at some of the country’s top business programs. Honesty, integrity, and high moral standards were his calling card in the business world.
Mr. Kanaga was a Board Member on the United States Chamber of Commerce from 1984-91, serving as Chairman of the Chamber in 1988-89, the first head of a public accounting firm to do so. As Chairman of the Chamber, and later Chairman of the Center for International Private Enterprise in the 1990’s, he considered it his mission to help former Eastern Bloc countries recover from years of socialism, Communist rule, and wrecked economies, to recover and make the transition to capitalism. He taught them that in business, your handshake is your word. You are agreeing to do what you say you will do, and are bound to do it. In a famous speech on C-Span in 1989, with President George H.W. Bush in attendance, Kanaga commented that state socialism had failed miserably around the world, and that those who were trying to bring it to the U.S would be responsible for what “stifles the most eloquent expression of the American spirit”.
Mr. Kanaga met with many heads of state, secretaries of state, ambassadors, and dignitaries around the globe, from a meeting with President Corazon Aquino in the Philippines, to dinner with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in New York. He met President Ronald Reagan, and introduced Pres. George H.W. Bush at the Annual Meeting of the U.S. Chamber. Titans in the world of business were his friends. Kanaga served as Board Member and Vice Chairman on the Business Council for United Nations (now United Nations Association) in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. At the drop of a hat, he would rush to help in emergencies, such as the tsunami in Indonesia in 2004, often at a cost to his own health. He was on the Boards of Directors of Presbyterian Hospital in New York; served as Board Member and Chairman of Mercy Ships; Mercy Medical Airlift; Athletes for Kids; Coalition of Christian Colleges; Graduate Schools of Business of Stanford University, UCLA, and Babson College; McDonnell-Douglas Corp., Value Line, Inc.; and Gloriae Dei Artes Foundation (now Arts Empowering Life).
It was to this last endeavor that Kanaga devoted much of his energy and passion in “retirement” (a term he never fully embraced). He worked tirelessly to bring Gloriae Dei Cantores, a world-class concert choir, to countries all over Europe, including three tours of Russia before the fall of the Iron Curtain. Bill treasured hearing the choir sing traditional and sacred songs of each country, and watching the tear-filled response of the listeners to the beauty of their own music, sung in their own language, music not heard for generations while under the rule of Communism or Fascism. His earlier passion for bringing free enterprise to poor countries of Eastern Europe, was now finding inspiration in this personal, spiritual sharing with its people.
Bill developed a love for travel during his business career that continued into retirement, and some of his favorite memories beyond the choir’s tours, included going on safaris in the great game reserves of southern Africa, fishing for King Salmon in Alaska, touring China, and walking the Milford Trek in New Zealand.
“Uncle Bill” was a mentor to many people in his business career, a father figure to many later in life, a source of wisdom and experience for others. Many stories of his great generosity are still coming to light. His contagious smile and openness combined with genuine care for other endeared him to many. When he was with you, he was fully present. Groups of businesspeople dealing with weighty issues in their lives welcomed him, and he was never afraid to share his deep faith in God. Many years ago in Mexico, Mr. Kanaga was chairing a meeting with some of the top partners in Arthur Young, and they were dealing with some problems that were causing some disagreement amongst the members. Bill invited a well-known Christian speaker to come talk with the group each morning over breakfast. The gentleman shared a verse from Philippians 4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, rejoice!” If one reads verses 4-7, you will understand how hot heads cooled, for when ever discussion became heated again, someone would say “Rejoice in the Lord!” Tension would break and laughter ensued.
A wake will be held at 20 Anchor Drive, Orleans on Friday, July 26, from 3:00-5:00p.m. A funeral service will be held at 11am on Saturday, July 27, at Church of the Transfiguration, Rock Harbor, Orleans. In lieu of flowers the family requests that donations be made to:
Arts Empowering Life Foundation P.O. Box 2831 Orleans, MA 02653
- Visitation Friday, July 26, 2019
- Funeral Service Saturday, July 27, 2019
William S. Kanaga
August 1, 2019
My deepest sympathy for your loss.
Sister Elizabeth is my sister and she introduced me to Bill several years ago. What a wonderful person he was it was always a pleasure to run into him when I visited my sister.
My peace be with you & your family & enjoy the many great memories Bill left behind.
August 1, 2019
Bill was a great example for accounting professionals and a gentleman, having a positive influence on those fortunate to work with him. My deep sympathy to his loved ones on their loss.
July 31, 2019
Mr. Bill was such a joyful man .I remember his visit with me on a trip he made to Fayettville, AR. I was unsure how to entertain him on a Friday afternoon but he made me feel comfortable, went to the square, and we had several laughs. He loved the high school band marching around for homecoming. Said that I set it up just for him. He shared joy and laughter wherever he went.
July 30, 2019
Bill was a guiding light when I stated my career at AY&CO. I worked on many of his clients and always learned a lot from a great teacher. Bill was an outstanding gentlemen and always had time to provide guidance and wisdom when asked. Bill was a person I will always remember From my days at AY. His leadership was recognized by all. My he rest in peace.
July 30, 2019
Bill Kanaga was an inspiration and a mentor to me. I was working in the AY Dallas Office in 1966 and Bill was instrumental in getting me the opportunity to use my audit skills through a transfer to the Rome office, from where I served energy industry clients throughout Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Bill was a hands on partner and I’ll never forget our trip visiting a Mobil offshore drilling platform together in Nigeria many years ago. Bill encouraged me to take on added responsibilities in the Middle East in 1970 and I eventually spent seven years in Rome, Tripoli and Beirut before transferring to New York and being admitted to the U. S. Partnership there. Bill was a true gentleman and will be missed by all who knew him. Thank you, Bill, for helping me have a great career with Arthur Young and Ernst and Young.
July 28, 2019
Sad that such an important part of the EY legacy has passed on. I only knew Bill from a few encounters during and after the merger, coming as I did from the Ernst side, and I found him engaging, direct and wonderful to talk with. But my late husband Bob, who had known him and his fine reputation, loved him, and spoke so highly of his integrity, wisdom and special charm. Those were challenging days in the late 80's-early 90's, and Bill must certainly have had a positive impact at the time. We know that his legacy lives on in the lives of his EY successors and his family.
July 27, 2019
I was a young partner around 1975 attending that years National partners’ meeting. At that meeting for the first time Bill announced that we would have a prayer before dinner which prayer was given my another partner. A day or so later I ran into Bill and thanked him for having a prayer before the first meal, but also mentioned that I thought the prayer should be universal - being Jewish I do not pray to Jesus Christ which is what the partner giving the prayer chose to do. About 12 months later on a Friday night about 5:15 pm I got a call, “Ginsberg, this is Kanaga! Last year you had some concern about the prayer that was given. How about you delivering it this year?“ I said, “absolutely, I’d love to do so. “. Others had heard about what I told Bill and suggested I made a big mistake and offended him. That call made it clear to me that was not the case and demonstrated his tolerance for others views. He was a man of great integrity, a very special man.
July 27, 2019
I am so very sorry for the loss of Bill. My heart and prayers go out to family and the COJ family. Bill was one of the most exceptional human beings I have EVER had the pleasure to know. Sometimes we meet people so extraordinary that we don't ever expect them to move on to their final destination. Bill was one of those people in my life. RIP sir, know you are greatly missed. Sally, I wish you peace and prayers. Dave
July 25, 2019
I am a Principal at EY in New York now and many years ago I happened to be the first Ernst & Young employee in Ireland as I joined just after the merger of Ernst & Whinney and Arthur Young. I have had the great privilege of being part of the EY firm, serving our clients and working with great colleagues and the experience has been one of the best of my life where I humbly hope I have made a difference
I didn’t know Bill personally but I was aware when I joined and am reminded frequently that when we do great work we stand on the shoulders of giants who came before us and left a legacy of integrity, teaming and the courage to do the right thing. I wanted to say thank you and acknowledge Bill for his legacy which still touches people and society and will live on
July 25, 2019
I first met Bill in 1974. I was a manager in the Providence office who was trying to decide whether to come to New York for the Arthur Young residency program. At that time Bill was the Firm Managing Partner and it was a bit overwhelming that he would reach out and take the time to talk with me about this opportunity. Naturally he was “convincing” and thus began a relationship that lasted for the remainder of the time Bill was active in Firm affairs.
Our interaction was infrequent, he would always have a smile and a twinkle in his eye when we met. While our conversation usually centered of professional matters, there was a personal side to our brief time together, a genuine sense empathy toward me, and a willingness to be supportive of challenges in my life.
In particular, in the early 80’s I was a young partner in France and involved in the very significant challenges we faced with the television business for RCA in Europe. Bill made a point of reaching out to me - he talked about his experiences with RCA and as a client handling partner. He asked penetrating questions about the client and other topics relevant to my work in France. It was clear that he cared deeply about how we needed to address the RCA challenges and me as a partner and an individual.
As time has passed, I have had an increasing awareness of and appreciation for the significant impact Bill has had on my professional career and life. He was very special because of the little things - his wisdom, that wonderful smile, the willingness to ask the right questions at the right time, his dignity, and loyalty to the firm.
I’m grateful to have had his friendship, and proud to have been his partner.
God speed good soldier!! Until we meet again.
July 25, 2019
I began my career in 1970 at Arthur Young in its New York Office and became partner in 1981 . I strongly echo the kind words and testimonials in this tribute. I always admired his leadership skills and compassion and interest in and willingness to mentor staff/partners at all levels. One brief memory---he accompanied me to Cincinnati to meet with the Chairman/CEO of an important client, who was a true titan of business, in order to help retain this important client and we were successful in our efforts. I was a relatively young partner but he treated me with extreme respect . My heartfelt condolences to his family.