Bill Resler, the popular senior lecturer emeritus in accounting at the UW Foster School of Business, died February 4 after contracting a viral brain infection.
The eccentric Resler was renowned for his effective classroom mix of rigor and fun during his nearly four decades teaching tax accounting—in his inimitable way—to generations of Foster School students.
“My philosophy toward teaching, tax law, or life in general is the same,” he wrote. “Struggle to fashion each day to be superior to yesterday. Work hard, play hard, and avoid confusing the two. Make clear choices between what comes easiest and what you feel is most meaningful.”
A different kind of lecturer
An attorney by training, Resler earned a JD at the University of Washington in 1972. He practiced law and taught for four years at the New York University School of Law LL.M. (Taxation) program before returning to Seattle and the UW.
He joined the Foster School’s Department of Accounting as a part-time lecturer in 1978 and became a full-time lecturer in 1984. In 1992, he co-founded (with friend and colleague Steve Rice) the school’s highly successful Master of Professional Accounting (MPAcc) in Taxation program. He directed the program until stepping down last June.
But Resler will be best remembered for his extreme dedication to students, present and past. He educated an estimated 6,000 of them on the vagaries of tax law in a style that has been characterized as “friendly terrorization.” And into every challenging topic and demanding assignment, he injected a dose of humor. The self-described “Code head” even gave personalities to various sections of Internal Revenue Code—including Section 1231 (“Paradise Island”), Section 1245 (“Jaws), and Section 751(b) (“Alien”).
His students gave as good as they got. One year, a group of acolytes plastered his office in pages of IRS code. Resler considered the redecorating mission a permanent improvement.
“To have my office wallpapered with the IRS code is my essence,” he said.
Empower to the people
Beyond accounting, Resler earned acclaim coaching Seattle’s Roosevelt High School girls’ basketball team. From 1998-2006 he led the Roughriders to a record of 187-51 and the 2004 state title. His uniquely empowering coaching style was documented in Ward Serrill’s (BA 1978) award-winning film, “The Heart of the Game.”
A certain degree of celebrity followed. Academy Award-winning actor Sean Penn was so moved by the film that he traveled to Seattle to meet Resler at his favorite U District haunt, the Duchess.
Penn was one of a legion of new fans from all walks of life, including a few chief financial officers.
When he was asked to speak at a 2007 CFO Forum on leadership at the Foster School, Resler explained the method to his madness on the court and in the classroom. In both arenas, the key was empowerment.
“If we can get people to like what they are doing,” he said, “they will have a proprietary stake in the outcome and they’ll work a lot harder… At the end of the day, what is our job as teachers, as leaders, as mentors? To do whatever it takes to make people want to work harder than they would if they had never met us.”
A memorial honoring Bill Resler will be held on Saturday, February 18, from 1-3 p.m. in Anthony’s Forum on the third floor of Dempsey Hall on the University of Washington Campus. An after-event will be held at Bill’s beloved bar, the Duchess.
Last year, former students created the Bill Resler Endowed Fund, which provides scholarship and operational support to the MPAcc in Taxation Program. The campaign has reached $150,000 toward its goal of $250,000. If you would like to support Foster accounting students in honor of Bill, click here to contribute.