William Harold Coulter, M.D.

Date of Birth

December 14, 1934

Date of Death

June 21, 2024

City of Death

Santa Barbara, CA

In recent years, our dad, Bill Coulter, had considered authoring his own obituary under the title “Of Me I Sing.” Somehow, he could bring humor into nearly any topic. We chuckled at the suggestion and, since he was not able to find the time prior to his passing on June 21, 2024, we hope to provide an accurate sketch of his extraordinary life and legacy.

William “Bill” Harold Coulter was born to Mildred and William John Coulter in Detroit in 1934 and was raised in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. He recounted early memories of sitting under his mother’s piano while she practiced and sang classical music. He spoke of their easy friendship with extended family, all in nearby homes, and of helping with his dad’s Victory Garden. He told of the thrill of being 10 years old and finding a nugget of rose quartz at Aunt Amy’s cabin, the confusion of seeing his grandpa crying while listening to a radio report about WWII, and recalled a full hour trying to parallel park a Ford at age 13 while the family ate dinner. Bill had many great mentors during these years, including his important relationship with his Uncle Harold, who encouraged him to pursue a medical career.

Bill graduated from Grosse Pointe High School, University of Michigan, and University of MIchigan Medical School. He completed his internship in Santa Barbara at Cottage Hospital, and his residency in Ophthalmology at University of Iowa. He went on to teach Ophthalmology at the School of Aerospace Medicine, Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, for two years prior to returning to Santa Barbara, where he joined the practice of Dr. Harold Alexander. Later joined by Dr. Blair Edwards, Bill remained in practice for 54 years, finally retiring in 2020.

He was married to his college sweetheart, Sarah, from the 1950s to the mid 1980s, raising three children (Christopher, Amy, and Eric) in Santa Barbara. Bill and second wife Dorothy “Tootie” Mathison, enjoyed entertaining friends in their San Roque home, until her passing in 2012. During Bill’s last 11 years, Mary Ann Froley became a dear and loving partner. Sharing Scrabble and laughter and family, they kept each other on their toes until Mary Ann’s passing in December, 2023.

Our dad was humble and he expressed himself through achievements, not bravado. We hope you had the opportunity to know him. Maybe you met Bill in the summer of 1953, aboard the coal ship SS James Davidson on Lake Michigan, where he washed dishes and photographed the crew. Photography is an interest that he and his sister, Nan, shared. Or you might remember him as a fire lookout at Roman Nose in Sandpoint, Idaho in 1955. Like people worldwide, did you possibly request from him a reprint of his 1962 research titled “The Characteristics of Human Synovial Tissue as seen with the Electron Microscope?” He was the first to accomplish that feat! Then after his residency in the 1960’s he traveled to Africa, on the great ship HOPE, performing eye surgery and training local doctors. Perhaps you knew our dad in the Air Force when he flew an F-4 Phantom jet, his helmet later saving his son during a motorcycle accident. But that was all before a trip he and Chris took to Salt Lake City aboard their respective motorcycles. Late at night, while heading for the nearest hotel room in Nevada, Bill could tell by the stars overhead that they were riding in the wrong direction! They arrived very late at the BristleCone Inn, so chilled that they sat in the tub together for half an hour before their teeth stopped chattering, Chris happy his dad knew how to find the North Star!

What a wealth of information he was. Family members always knew they could count on Bill to make complex medical issues simpler to understand. He was the quintessential family doctor. Any cuts, punctures, bruises or other injuries; “show Dad!” was the cry. Generally responses included: How’s your vision? Can you walk on it? Does it hurt when you do this? Put some heat on it. Put some ice on it. Use some Neosporin. Or the dreaded; “You might need a stitch or two here…“

You may have seen Bill’s extraordinary stained glass windows, or perhaps you were lucky enough to be given one of his exquisitely crafted wooden boxes, clocks, or hourglasses. Bill swept the family into his wide range of interests from cooking and kite flying to rock tumbling. He was awarded chef of the week in the Santa Barbara News Press. He built Alcourt Sailfish boats with brother-in-law Chuck, and remote control airplanes with his children. Were you a guest at a wonderful Thanksgiving celebration at his Santa Barbara home with his wife, Sarah, and the kids in the 1970s? Maybe you enjoyed a long philosophical chat punctuated by a lot of laughter and some libation. Bill was kind, gracious, and broadly knowledgeable in all things arcane. He was a delight.

Perhaps you were in his examination chair or cured by his gentle, steady, surgical hand. He explained conditions with understandable analogies, delivered jokes like a master, and became friends with many of his patients. He always looked forward to going to the office.

Did you know him as a founding board member of Surgical Eye Expeditions “SEE International?” He joined many SEE service trips to perform eye surgery in remote villages in Mexico.

Maybe you met Bill on a Tuesday at Mousse Odile or Mulligan’s Restaurant? There he faithfully celebrated friendship with his doctor pals every week over lunch for 30 years. You may have been one of the hundreds of people who sailed aboard his sailboat, or went with the family to Santa Cruz Island, or won a race at the Santa Barbara Yacht Club, where he was a member for 50 years. Did you hear about the flight on Eric’s small plane from Oshkosh, WI, to Drummond Island, MI, to visit brother Frank and wife Kat, then back across the country to Alaska? Maybe he told you about one of his last great adventures in 2020 when he joined the family aboard Eric’s 1931 wooden boat traveling up the Inside Passage all the way from Ketchikan to Glacier Bay, and across the Gulf of Alaska to Whittier on the Prince William Sound?! We hope you met him!

Bill is loved and profoundly missed by his friends and family, including children Christopher (Rebecca), Amy Petrocelli (Marcello), Eric (Joelle); sister, Nan Coulter; brother, Frank (Kathy); brother-in-law, Chuck Hayden (Arlyne); grandchildren Giuliana, Ben, Jack, and Nicole, nephews Bunky, Chuck, and John, grand-nephews and grand-nieces. A life celebration will be held in August, 2024. For information about the memorial contact the family at billcoultermemorial@gmail.com or to leave and share memories and photos please search Neptune Society/William Harold Coulter. In lieu of flowers please consider a donation to SEE International at seeintl.org.


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