Note: Bill Tsurnos came to Alaska in 2007 to help Cook Inlet Tribal Council start Chanlyut Enterprises Inc., a recovery and prison reentry program that offers men a new beginning away from self-destructive behavior.  He ran the program until his death on Oct. 9. This essay was derived from the message that Gloria O’Neill, president and CEO of Cook Inlet Tribal Council, gave at Bill’s memorial service on Saturday, Oct. 27, at Heart of the City church in Anchorage.

By Gloria O’Neill

When I first met Bill Tsurnos, I remember being struck by his deep piercing blue eyes but more than that, by his wise and strong spiritual presence.

It has been said by those he mentored that “Bill was a builder of men.” He taught them to own who they were, to have the willingness to change, to aspire to their highest selves.

Bill had tremendous and instant impact on each person he encountered, especially the men of our Chanlyut family. He had a genuine heart, and his kindness and candor made an instant impression. His commitment to powerful and meaningful change encouraged so many.

Bill believed in personal accountability and unconditional love for every soul, and he truly lived each day as the change he wanted to see in the world. He led by example in every way, every day.

Bill spent more than 11 years at the Delancey Street Foundation in San Francisco and New Mexico where he turned his own life around through a remarkable journey of personal transformation.

He joined our CITC family in 2007 helping to establish our Chanylut program, bringing his credibility and wisdom to Alaska to shape the lives of others who were facing similar circumstances as his own.

He fully embraced the motto of “each one-teach one,” and through his experience, helped countless others in their journey of self-improvement.

Hundreds of men seeking to overcome the serious challenges of addiction, homelessness, or re-entering society after incarceration received the profound gift of a second chance and a new beginning in life.

Bill spent his final years giving back to our Alaska community and providing guidance to those who needed it most.

Which included me from time to time. He’d show up when I needed wise guidance. During one of our conversations he taught me a part of his “secret sauce” to life, a guide to overcome challenge and enjoy success.

  • Don’t step out of life. We all have to jump through hoops to “Do Life.” Control your anger along the way.
  • Always set new goals. If you plateau, set new goals and shoot for the stars.
  • Learn to change. Learn to deal with failure, learn from others, and seize opportunities. Be adaptable.

Bill will always be a source of inspiration for me personally, and his contributions strengthened our organization.

Even now, I can hear his encouraging words and feel his calm demeanor, and am reflective of the many lives he has touched and saved.

Bill was a great teacher, mentor, and dear friend, and we will all miss him sorely. As Pericles, the Greek statesman, once said, “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”

Bill will always be woven into each of our own lives and into all the lives he touched.