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William Donaldson

William Donaldson

Newport News, Virginia

As a successful businessman, consultant, author, and academic, Willy has accomplished much. But none of this prepared him for the journey he took with his parents.

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About the author

Willy is an educator, author, businessman, systems thinker, husband, father, friend, and son who likes to think deeply and longitudinally about ideas big and small.

Dr. William (Willy) Donaldson is an Associate Professor of Management at Christopher Newport University. Willy has over 35 years of experience as a Board member and President and has been CEO of 8 companies including a publicly-traded company and an international joint venture. Willy is the Founder and President of Strategic Venture Planning, a management-consulting firm that assists boards, investors, and senior management teams maximize results. His experience runs from start-up to Fortune 500 companies, from private to public companies, from services to manufacturing, from low to high-tech, and from for-profit to not-for-profit entities.

He is the author of Simple_Complexity: A Management Book for the Rest of Us: A Guide to Systems Thinking
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Estimated Time of Departure

How I Talked My Parents to Death: A Love Story

Death is an inevitability. Yet the vast majority of us seem to want to ignore this fact. However, death is inevitable, and trying to avoid talking about it is a mistake. Estimated Time of Departure will take you on a journey of one man having these discussions with his parents and how powerfully loving, revealing, and cathartic they were.

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Personal Growth & Self-Improvement
128 pages


Death is inevitable, and yet the vast majority of the developed world seems to want to ignore this fact and avoid the sad inevitability. However, death is an inevitability, and trying to avoid talking about it is a mistake.

Estimate Time of Departure will take you on a journey of one man and his family having these discussions and have powerfully loving and revealing they were. They were not without sadness and challenges, but by virtue of talking and exploring the topic, the family came closer together and the inevitable passing became, while still sad, a cathartic, deeply rewarding event. Estimate Time of Departure was written to give you the courage to have these discussions. Whether you are a parent, daughter, son you will see hope, love, and reverence in the discussions.

As a successful businessman, consultant, author, and academic, Willy has accomplished much. But none of this success and experience prepared him for the journey he took with his parents to prepare them, and the rest of the family, for their inevitable deaths. After he went on this journey with his parents, many people including doctors, care-givers, death doulas, administrators, friends, and family asked him to share his story.

Editorial review

Decades of empirical research have documented the transformative and educational power of narrative. Reading stories about others’ experiences can provide deep insight into one’s own life, it can bring people together by illuminating what may otherwise feel like an isolating experience, and it can normalize some of the seemingly arduous aspects of life. Nowhere can this be seen as vividly as in stories surrounding the process of traversing end of life discussions and experiences. In Estimated Time of Departure William Donaldson expertly creates a sense of intimacy by bringing us into his world. His narrative is engaging and often humorous as he tells the stories of his family’s end of life discussions. In doing so, he makes the reader feel like a friend along for the ride. Interwoven with his experiences are concrete suggestions for the reader to consider in thinking about their own stories and how they may have end of life conversations with their parents, children, or even with themselves. Given the importance of these conversations, and the rarity with which they occur, Estimated Time of Departure is significant insofar as it shows us a roadmap for how to engage in what can seem like a daunting task: confronting the end of one’s story on earth. By showing how transformative end of life discussions can be, Donaldson not only shares his own experiences but also encourages us to craft our own stories. Without being pedantic or heavy-handed, Donaldson gently guides us through the process in hopes of helping others achieve what scholars have dubbed “a good death.” Health educators and hospice workers have long known the importance of striving to end life on one’s own terms. Similarly, communication experts have long exalted the importance of discussing end of life decisions with our loved ones. Here, Donaldson provides specific questions we should engage with and offers prompts for topics to discuss. The narrative he presents is insightful, realistic, relatable, and makes the difficult to tackle just a little bit easier. An enjoyable and insightful read, Estimated Time of Departure allows the reader to harness the power of narrative to navigate their own end of life stories and hopefully helps others to achieve the good death that Donaldson was able to facilitate for his family.

Dr. Alice Veksler, Specialist in Medical Communications


In times that feel increasingly uncertain, there is something we can all do to give ourselves ultimate peace of mind, and that is to contemplate and make important decisions regarding the one thing sure to happen eventually: our death, and the death of those we love. Facing death in a death-phobic culture is a task few people undertake on purpose. Willy Donaldson has done so and, with grace and a vital sense of warmth and humor, inspires us to do the same.

After navigating the many complexities surrounding his own father’s and mother’s departures, Willy generously offers up the wisdom he gleaned from his personal experience, as a blueprint for untangling the knotted path that lies at the end of everyone’s life.

How we navigate this path is important, for individuals, their families, and communities, as well as for culture and for humanity. It matters how the story ends. What does dying well look like, considering one’s core values? Willy invites us into a safe space to ask this question of ourselves and our loved ones. He serves as a practical example of how to go about the tender, trying business of dying a human death, and shows us how we can prepare for our own like we would for any other sacred human experience that requires an alchemic combination of preparation, adaptability, and surrender.

Anna Marshall, End of Life Caregiver, Death Doula


Willy Donaldson’s poignant memoir Estimated Time of Departure provides a refreshingly direct yet gentle perspective on relationships in the last phase of life. He reminds us of that most special opportunity we have as children of aging parents to serve as loving advocates and stewards of lives well-lived. If we are aging parents, he teaches us about letting go and how to accept the care and support we deserve. As a social work educator with a background in caregiving relationships, what I found the most surprising and valuable was the thread of hope he weaves throughout his journey. By illuminating the myriad of pathways down which we can walk (and talk) with our loved ones in their final years, months, and days, he provides us with hope that there isn’t just one perfect way to do this….that with persistent yet tender communication, it is possible the end of life, while difficult, will be innately rewarding and intimate.

Diane Griffiths, PhD

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  • Georgia Donaldson
    on May 24, 2021, 7:19 p.m.

    Congratulations! This is very exciting— cant wait to see this in print. 😘

  • Frank Byrum
    on May 24, 2021, 7:52 p.m.


    I'm looking forward to reading your new book. Congratulations on pushing through the writing process.


  • Richard Siegel
    on May 24, 2021, 7:58 p.m.

    Willy .....its Wicky! So great to hear from you and equal parts sad about your parents and happy you all had each other through the end. I have ordered some version of the book (think the hard copy, and a PDF and reader version) so you should be feeling a subtle rush of wealth right about now. Let's reconnect after the book tour ... which I am certain will be in the very near future.
    Best to Patti and the girls!!

  • Tim Michalski
    on May 24, 2021, 7:59 p.m.

    Willy, couldn't come at a more appropriate time for me. A topic that I am currently wresting with. We'll see where your wisdom leads things.

  • Jon Arnold
    on May 24, 2021, 8:06 p.m.

    Congratulations, Willy. Sounds like a fulfilling project and a very timely one for our demographic too. Look forward to reading it, Best,

  • Douglas Nelson
    on May 24, 2021, 8:09 p.m.

    Thanks for keeping me 'in the loop'. Your parents were remarkable people, and I feel honored to have been part of their journey.
    Doug Nelson

    • William Donaldson
      on June 4, 2021, 2:37 p.m.

      Doug, Great to hear from you, and thanks for your kind words. Willy

  • Anne Harrison Harris
    on May 24, 2021, 10:41 p.m.

    I am truly looking forward to reading your book, Willy.
    Anne Harrison

    • William Donaldson
      on June 4, 2021, 2:36 p.m.

      Thanks, Anne Harrison. Looking forward to the big event in a few weeks. Willy

  • Brennan Smith
    on May 25, 2021, 1:04 a.m.

    Congrats on tenure, and congrats on writing this important book! Your thought leadership continues to inspire. Brennan

  • Patricia Donaldson
    on May 25, 2021, 1:48 p.m.

    Hi Willy! What an amazing feat you have accomplished. This is such an important topic and one that I personally wrestled with with my own parents. Thank you for bringing this conversation into the light.
    All the best, Trish Donaldson

  • Peter Janssen
    on May 30, 2021, 1:41 p.m.

    Willy, Congratulations on your book. It's an important subject and an important book, particularly for those of us who are not well. I look forward to reading it and sharing it with my family. Lots of love, Renee

  • Joseph Burke
    on June 5, 2021, 5:53 p.m.

    Congrats Willy on a great and inspiring project!

  • James Vogeley
    on June 6, 2021, 3:55 p.m.


    I know you had a great relationship with both of your parents and I'm sure this will be both a loving tribute as well as an inspiring read. Looking forward to it!


  • Andrea Staskiel
    on June 9, 2021, 8:27 p.m.

    I think you know this is a topic near and dear to my heart. When it comes to these discussions I’ve found there are two types of people. Those who plan and those who don’t. I’m excited to read your book and will encourage others to do the same.

  • Mary Jacobs
    on June 9, 2021, 11:42 p.m.

    Hey Willy-looking forward to reading this-know it will have your wisdom & wit through out! Blessings and Best wishes to you!
    Claire Jacobs

  • Edward Tanner
    on June 10, 2021, 1:25 p.m.

    Looking forward to reading another great book by Willy!

  • James Yates
    on June 11, 2021, 1:37 a.m.

    Hi Willy - My parents are gone now but Sharon's Mom is still alive at 91 years old. I'm interested to get your take on this important, and unavoidable, topic.

  • deleted deleted
    on June 17, 2021, 5:24 p.m.

    Greetings Willy, Thanks for writing this book it sounds great. My Dad passed suddenly in 2017 then my Mom will be 92 this coming July. I hope to make use of your insight especially with Mom who is now in assisted living going through the usual end of life time. Happy June to you and your family! Regards, BK (Bill Kelly '74)