BY JOHN KING
William Byrd Callaway, an ASLA Fellow and 2007 recipient of the ASLA Medal, died on November 24, 2014, in San Francisco after a brief fight with cancer. He was 71.
During his career, the burly but genial man known as Bill to colleagues and clients excelled both as a designer and as an executive. In the former role he crafted everything from corporate campuses and community parks to private estates. In the latter, he spent his entire career at what now is SWA Group in a procession of positions that included president, chief executive officer, and chairman.
Raised on his family’s ranch near the state capital of Sacramento in California’s Central Valley, Bill graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, with a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture in 1966. Then, after a six-month stint in the U.S. Marine Corps reserve, he joined what at the time was Sasaki, Walker, and Associates. He left to earn a master’s degree at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, but returned to SWA in 1971 and didn’t budge after that.
During his career, Bill took a lead role in such projects as the expressive plazas outside the Philip Johnson-designed towers at PPG Place in Pittsburgh and 101 California Street in San Francisco, the low-key Shoreline Regional Park in Palo Alto, and the master plan for the vast Beijing Finance Center. On the business side, he helped steer SWA’s expansion to what is now a firm with 230 employees and offices in China and the United Arab Emirates, as well as six cities in the United States. The firm received ASLA’s Landscape Architecture Firm Award in 2005, while Bill was CEO.
Two years later, Bill was awarded the ASLA Medal for, among other things, inspiring fellow designers “to retain an idealistic view of the profession and the world.” He remained a principal and board member at the time of his death.
What coworkers remember is a leader who was also a colleague—comfortable with, and respectful of, everyone from major clients to entry-level employees.
“Bill was a unique individual for a group practice. He set a tone that allowed young designers to come into their own,” said John Wong, FASLA, who worked alongside Bill for decades at the firm’s home office in Sausalito and who is now SWA’s chairman. “He had a way of providing leadership without being heavy-handed, and people respected that.”
John King, Honorary ASLA, is the urban design critic for the San Francisco Chronicle.