William Soren Mortensen passed away in his Pacific Palisades home of 50 years on Sunday, February 28, 2021, just four years after losing his beloved wife of 58 years, Nancy, with whom he shared six children. Their five surviving children were with Bill at his bedside when he succumbed to natural causes at the age of 88.
Bill was born in Philadelphia to Helen and Dr. William L. Mortensen while his father was finishing his medical training. The young family returned to California growing to include sister Marilyn and brother John, eventually settling in Santa Monica, which would forever play a major role in Bill’s life. He attended Lincoln Middle School and Santa Monica High, where he would later be inducted into its Hall of Fame. Bill attended USC, graduating with a business degree in 1954. He was a proud Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity member, where he met many lifelong friends.
Bill was greatly influenced by his grandfather, Dr. William Soren Mortensen, who co-founded Santa Monica Hospital and First Federal Savings, and who would guide young Bill toward his lifelong character traits. Bill served in the United States Navy in multiple deployments around the world aboard the U.S.S. Mansfield. Honorably discharged in 1957, Bill moved in with his father on Montana Avenue after the death of his beloved mother, Helen. As chance would have it, Bill was soon introduced to a young lady living in an adjacent apartment complex. Her name was Nancy Sullivan, a preschool teacher who had recently graduated from the University of Colorado and hailed from Park Ridge, Illinois. Their first formal date was for dinner at the Hotel Bel Air. They were married in January 1959.
Bill’s storied banking career began in 1957 as an appraiser at First Federal Savings (later First Federal Bank). Bill became President of the company in 1969 and he served as its CEO and Chairman until his retirement in 1997. Bill’s leadership, optimism and vision produced a stock price that appreciated 25-fold from its IPO in 1983 until his retirement. However, Bill was most proud of the people that worked at the bank. He treated them with dignity and respect and made it a point to know each by his/her first name. He delighted in First Federal being named among the 100 Best Companies to Work for in America. Bill was President of the National Savings and Loan League and the California Savings and Loan League, and was appointed to the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco.
Community service was critical to Bill, and enabled him to give back to the community where he was raised and continued to live. Bill was President of the Santa Monica Jaycees and the Santa Monica Boys Club and served on countless other boards and committees. Bill often said his grandfather taught him it felt better to give than to receive, which Bill took to heart. He and Nancy will be remembered for their broad philanthropic support of many charities, schools and causes, including St. John’s Hospital, the YMCA, Catholic Charities, Santa Monica Boys & Girls Club, to name a few.
Following the Northridge earthquake in 1994, Bill led the major funding drive to repair the damaged St. Monica’s Church. Bill received many honors, including the “Distinguished Service Award” from the Santa Monica Jaycees, the “Distinguished Citizen Award” from the Anti-Defamation League, the “Brotherhood” and “Humanitarian” Awards from the National Conference of Christians and Jews, the “Gold Medallion Award” from the Boy’s Club of America, and the “Cardinal’s Award” from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
Bill was an early supporter of Teach for America. He believed education was important and he and Nancy were generous and continuous supporters of education through USC, Pepperdine, LMU, Marymount High, Santa Monica High, Loyola High, Washington High, St. Monica High and Roosevelt Elementary.
His Catholic faith was extremely important. Bill attended St. Monica’s Church and Corpus Christi Church. He believed in prayer. He demonstrated the extent of his Catholic faith upon learning his teenage son Bill Jr. had been killed in a car accident. Bill immediately reached out and forgave the person responsible for the accident. Years later, Bill would describe this moment as the beginning of his healing process during a most emotionally challenging and painful period.
Bill’s priorities in life were always his wife and children. Bill was a devoted husband and he was an active and loving father to each of his six children. He derived great joy participating in their school and sporting activities. Bill always took time away from business for family. He often had one or two of his children join him and Nancy on his business trips to Washington, D.C., or San Francisco as an educational experience while providing individualized time with each.
Bill loved, was loved and will be greatly missed. He was preceded in death by his loving wife Nancy, their first child William Jr (Bill), and by Bill’s parents and step-mother (Barbara Billingsley), sister, brother and grandchild Joseph William Allegrette (Angel at birth). He is survived by his remaining five children, Mary, Anne (Russell Allegrette), Tom, David, and Peter (Simona), and his loving grandchildren: Brenden, Bill, Abby, Maggie, Nick, Grace, Rose, Lola, and Nathan.
Bill’s funeral service will be private due to local COVID-19 health restrictions. In lieu of flowers, donations would greatly assist St. John’s Health Center Foundation, Catholic Education Foundation, Santa Monica Unified School District, St Monica’s Catholic Church and Corpus Christi Parish.
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