Riordan mourns death of Bill Blanchard ’71

Dave+Mahoney+%E2%80%9971%2C+Dan+Hayes+%E2%80%9971%2C+and+Dan+Ferrigno%0A%E2%80%9971+support+fellow+Crusader+Bill+Blanchard+%E2%80%9971.

+xuvqIZl45/UaDT71IaSHRHk+PTBHI2/

Dave Mahoney ’71, Dan Hayes ’71, and Dan Ferrigno ’71 support fellow Crusader Bill Blanchard ’71.

Steven Rissotto, Editor-in-Chief

It’s never easy to lose someone within the community, especially one who contributed so much to help improve it. Bill Blanchard ‘71 died on Feb. 8 after a long battle with lingering health issues. He was 66.

Blanchard was unique in many ways, one being that he lived his entire adult life as a quadriplegic following a major accident while playing varsity football for the Crusaders in 1971. Positioned in the backfield, he was knocked solid by a short, stocky running back. Without any time to think or strategize, Blanchard tucked down and embraced for impact. The decision was one he replayed in his head for the rest of his life.

“As we hit, I felt myself spinning around in the air and then I was staring at a blue-sky watching puffy clouds float by, and I realized I couldn’t move my body,” Blanchard told The Crusader in 2018. “People were gathered around me.”

Bill will be deeply missed by his family and the Riordan community, and especially classmates Dave Mahoney, Dan Hayes, and Steve Mayer who provided special support over the past two years.”

— Paul Cronin '93

Head coach Bob Toledo’s mouth dropped after hearing the enormous head-to-head contact. He later described it as “the loudest sound” he’s ever heard in 50 years of coaching experience and contemplated stepping down, but Blanchard convinced him to stay. 

Back then he was a tall and slender safety, but his elite athleticism fueled his fire to compete. Just like a good amount of kids, Blanchard loved sports and played them all. He first visited Riordan in 1966 during an eighth grade basketball tournament while at St. Stephens and ended up walking out with two items: an MVP award and a high school that would do anything to have him.

Once that accident occurred, everything in his life changed forever.

It wasn’t long after that doctors delivered the news he didn’t want to hear: he was paralyzed from the neck down. A few days later as students filled the theater, principal Fr. John McEnhill delivered an emotional message.

“We all love Bill and this tragedy is really terrible. Everyone is reaching out to him today, tomorrow, next week, and next month,” McEnhill stated. “But after about a year, people will start forgetting about Bill Blanchard. What I’m asking of the student body today is to remember that guy. He’s going to need your help.”

Blanchard was lost. He couldn’t walk, he couldn’t dance, he couldn’t even think straight. “For the most part, it was frightening. What’s in store for me? What’s my future?” he said. “It was overwhelming at first. I had a tremendous support system with my family and with my friends.”

 Throughout the rest of his life, he dedicated his services as an advocate for people with disabilities at UC Berkeley, a role he embraced. In the fall of 2018, Blanchard needed help. After he completely retired, he lost a big source of income used to pay his medical assistants. After scrambling for alternatives and researching money tips online, Blanchard ran out of ideas.

In stepped Stephen Mayer ‘72, Dan Hayes ‘71, and Dave Mahoney ‘71. All three were in attendance during the emotional assembly nearly 50 years earlier. As a team, they started a GoFundMe page for Blanchard that raised over $131,000. 

In a statement to the Riordan community, alumni director Paul Cronin ‘93 said, “Bill will be deeply missed by his family and the Riordan community, and especially classmates Dave Mahoney, Dan Hayes, and Steve Mayer who provided special support over the past two years.”

“I have to tell you,” Mayer told the Riordan community as he accepted the Chaminade award in January. “It was one of the most important things that I’ve ever done in my life.”

Bill Blanchard was the definition of someone who made the most out of his life, even after going through obstacles that he couldn’t bear to overcome. 

“At this point in my life,” he said in 2018. “Riordan means friendship and living your life for others and not just for yourself. Crusaders are ones to not leave a fallen Crusader behind.”

Those words still ring true today and so does the words that Fr. McEnhill preached to the packed theater in 1971: “remember that guy.”

The Riordan community will forever remember that guy, Bill Blanchard.