Obituaries » William H. Varner

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William H. Varner

December 20, 1964 - April 29, 2022

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William “Bill” Hamilton Varner, 57, peacefully left this world on April 29, 2022, surrounded by those who loved him most.


Born in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Bill grew up in a home full of joy—a gathering spot for family and friends and always full of music. From an early age, Bill was an accomplished classical pianist and keyboard player in a band, competitive tennis player and sailing enthusiast. He also served as “crew” for his dad’s race car driving across the Southeast. He loved visits on his great-grandfather’s farm with cattle, cotton and corn in Tuskegee, Ala., where Bill would fish, explore the woods and savor his great-grandmother’s scratch biscuits. As an adult, he fed his curiosity, creativity and passion through his many additional interests—guitar, travel, motorcycles, photography, sketching, magic, genealogy and astronomy. His love of animals is legendary, especially his dogs—Murph, Stella, Lexi and Bear—and cats Bella, Nico and Amelia.


Bill attended boarding school at Indian Springs School in Birmingham, Ala. He spent his freshman year at Haverford College in Pennsylvania, then completed his B.A. degree in Psychology at The University of Alabama, followed by a Master of Science degree in Health Administration at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Bill spent his career committed to enhancing healthcare, focusing on excellence in care delivery and the patient experience, as well as the expansion of services and accessibility to care for all. His 27-year career in healthcare led him to Charleston, SC (Roper St. Francis Health), Winston-Salem, NC (Novant Health)—where he met his future wife, Catherine—and finally Lynchburg, Va., where Bill served Centra for 16 years as Vice President of Strategic Planning, Marketing & Communications. Most recently, Bill served as President & CEO of the United Way of Central Virginia, where he drove strategic planning within and collaboration across organizations to create self-sufficiency and sustainable outcomes. In all of his work, Bill was known for his vision and integrity; creating dream teams and a culture of kindness, humor and excellence; bridge-building; and his dedication to making our community a better place.


After their September 2001 wedding in Asheville, NC, Bill and Catherine made their home in Lynchburg and enjoyed 22 years together. More than anything, Bill absolutely adored his children, Julia and Will. Fully invested in their interests, he was their biggest cheerleader, whether it was school activities, horseback riding competitions, baseball, football, wrestling, lacrosse, music performances of their own and attending concerts and festivals together around the country, traveling the world together to experience other cultures, and imagining their futures with them. Bill always will be remembered for his welcoming and engaging persona—a gracious host to friends old and new and global students who became family, a respected mentor and colleague, Supper Club foodie, and a member of the infamous “Panel of Experts,” among others.

One of Bill’s greatest gifts is the support he gave to the community through board service, strategic planning, philanthropy and active engagement. During his time in Lynchburg, Bill served on numerous boards, including Amazement Square Rightmire Children’s Museum, James River Day School, Lynchburg Regional Chamber of Commerce, United Way of Central Virginia and Piedmont Community Health Plan. He delivered food to the underserved for Meals on Wheels and was an avid supporter of the Lynchburg Humane Society and the Academy Center of the Arts. He also lent his vocal support, time and talent effecting positive change for social equity and basic human services.


Since his mid-30s, Bill battled a chronic liver disease, primary sclerosing cholangitis and, in the past few years, colon cancer. He had a successful living donor liver transplant in 2010 at VCU Health in Richmond, Va., made possible by the grace of friend and donor Alison Baker. Bill spent the next decade providing coaching and support to others facing challenging health issues, as well as educating healthcare providers about the patient experience, with his unique perspective as a healthcare administrator and frequent patient.


Bill’s determination to live a rich, full life and his devotion to the needs of friends and family make his death an extraordinary loss. All who had the good fortune to know Bill benefited from his loyal friendship, irreverent wit, generosity, and, in the end, his unfailing courage and dignity.


Bill was predeceased by his mother, Theresa Hamilton Varner of Washington, D.C., and aunt Rosemary Hamilton of Norristown, Pa. In addition to his wife and children, Bill is survived by his father, Bill Varner III and his wife, Mary, of Spanish Fort, Ala. Bill’s family is grateful for the compassionate care received by Dr. Cecilia MacCallum—his dear friend and oncologist with Centra’s Alan B. Pearson Regional Cancer Center—as well as his physicians and transplant team at VCU Health, and the team with Centra Hospice.


A memorial service will be held in celebration of Bill’s life at 10 a.m. Friday, May 27, 2022, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 605 Clay Street in downtown Lynchburg, with a reception following.


In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in Bill’s memory to one of the following organizations: the United Way of Central Virginia, the Academy Center of the Arts, the Lynchburg Humane Society or Donate Life America. In addition, please consider giving the gift of life by becoming an organ donor, if you are not already.

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