Monday, August 10, 2009

Executive director of OHS drowns off of Martha's Vineyard

Dr. William K. Laidlaw, Jr., executive director and CEO of the Ohio Historical Society (OHS), drowned off of Martha's Vineyard on Friday evening during a family vacation.

Laidlaw, 66, fell into distress in rough waters along the south shore's Chilmark beach, and rescue efforts by police, fire, emergency medical technicians, and lifeguards were unsuccessful.

He was pronounced dead at Martha's Vineyard Hospital at 5:28 p.m.

Police believe that rough surf and riptides were responsible for the drowning, but recent reports indicate that Laidlaw may have suffered a heart attack.

"It is with profound sadness that we learned of the passing of our friend and colleague, Bill Laidlaw," said Richard T. Prasse, chairman of the OHS board of trustees. "The entire Ohio Historical Society family mourns this tragic loss, and our deepest sympathies are with his family and friends during this difficult time."

Laidlaw came to the OHS in 2003 after a career in higher education and non-profit management and is credited with reinventing the OHS business model from one heavily dependent on state support to one based on entrepreneurism.

"Bill was wholeheartedly committed to the historical society's mission 'to help people connect with Ohio's past in order to create a better future,'" Prasse said. "He was a good and decent man who inspired others by inviting new ideas and involvement in the organization. He guided the Ohio Historical Society through significant changes and tough economic times by laying the foundation for the Society's reinvention as a stronger, more focused statewide history organization."

During his tenure, Laidlaw also served as the State Historic Preservation Officer, chair of the Ohio Historical Records & Advisory Board and the Program Committee for the American Association of State & Local History 2007; and as a member of the Governor's Residence Advisory Committee and the National Museum of Afro-American History and Culture Planning Council.

Prasse said that Laidlaw planned to retire at the end of the year, and that OHS is conducting a nationwide search for a new executive director.

Laidlaw is survived by his wife, Donna; his two children, Scott and Christina; and three grandchildren.

Photo courtesy of the Ohio Historical Society.