Five Questions for Bill Mills
William E. “Bill” Mills was hired in August 1967 as a graphic artist. But almost immediately, he began taking pictures for MCPS, and he has been the sole school system photographer for nearly 46 years. Mills will retire this month. He is a Washington, D.C. native and graduated from Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1958. He holds an associate’s degree in business administration from Montgomery College, a bachelor’s in photography from the Rochester Institute of Technology and a master’s in painting and art history from American University. The Bulletin caught up with him to ask about some of his most memorable assignments and what he will miss most.
After taking photos all these years, are there any favorite experiences that stand out in your mind?
There’s been quite a variety. I went spelunking with kids once in Pennsylvania. That was novel. I went whitewater rafting with kids from a high school activity group. I went rappelling with a group from Outdoor Ed. One instance I particularly remember is from a teacher I photographed; she had an activity in her classroom for Japanese culture. I took pictures and it appeared in The Bulletin. I thought that was that. But I saw her later, and she said she had just gotten back from a trip to Japan. When I asked how that happened, she said that a group had seen that picture and thought she’d be a good person to send on this (foreign exchange) trip. That’s when I got a sense of an impact a photograph could have. They can be helpful in ways you don’t realize. You don’t know what benefits could come from just having a picture on a page.
How did you discover that photography would be your life’s work?
When I was graduating from high school, my friends and I were talking about adventures we’d like to have. I thought the idea of going to sea would be great; you could hang out, drink beer and raise cane. I was able to get a seaman’s card and got a job on a boat. I eventually got to the Pacific and took the train to a historic area, Kamakura. I ended up at a Japanese temple. There was fog in the trees and moisture on the stone steps. I took a picture. I didn’t expect anything to come of that. On the boat going back to San Francisco, I kept thinking of that picture. It was so satisfying. I got home and told my parents that I didn’t think business administration was what I should be doing.
How could you keep the same job for so long?
It never seemed to be the same.
What will you miss the most?
The exchange with people. Being plopped in the middle of an event, like the Greenblatt Award winners … I would have never met them otherwise. And I really enjoyed having met them. I will miss that kind of experience that was replicated every day.
How will you spend your retirement?
In Brooklyn and Boston, where I have four grandchildren. (Wife Helen and I) will do some traveling. And there’s a few things around the house I’ve neglected over the years.