William Knowles

Obituary of William Knowles

W. Lee Knowles, family man and twenty-seven years retired, was just shy of 91

William Lee Knowles of Clifton, NJ, known as Lee, passed away in the ER at Mountainside Hospital early April 21. The cause of death was heart failure due to advanced age. A widower, Mr. Knowles aspired to live out his years independently. Happiest among friends and family, Lee enjoyed the comfort of familiar surroundings.

 Born at Orange Memorial Hospital on May 15, 1926, Lee was the third and
youngest child of Mildred Vie Knowles (née Koffman) and Elbert Beaumont
Knowles. Lee's family moved from his childhood home in Montclair to
neighboring Glen Ridge, where Lee attended the public schools before
enlisting in the US Army Air Force in 1944. Inspired to the branch in part by his older brother, Edward Alden Knowles, a pilot who served with the 463rd Heavy Bombardment Group in Italy, Lee received training as a radio operator at Truax Field, Wisconsin, was preparing to ship overseas, but instead resumed civilian life following the drawdown of 1945.

Lee worked with the American Broadcasting Company in Manhattan, during which time he chanced to re-encounter Shirley P. Miller on a commuter bus while she was with Eastern Airlines. The soon-to-be Mrs. Knowles, raised in Montclair and a graduate of The Northfield School in Northfield, Massachusetts and Barnard College in Manhattan, would marry Lee in October of 1952. They would live in Harrisburg, PA, before moving to Bloomfield, CT.

Lee traveled Pennsylvania and New England roadways as a regional salesman representing the Fort Howard Paper Company, the Parker Pen Company, and later the Scheaffer Pen Company, before returning to New Jersey and a home he and family grew to adore near Mills Reservation. He found a good fit working with The Perdue Radio Company on South Park Street in Montclair. After a brief stint in the turbulent mid-seventies with the Magnavox Company in Totowa, NJ, Lee ventured into business ownership himself. The founder and proprietor of The Cheese Shop in Caldwell, NJ, Lee announced his grand opening at 359 Bloomfield Avenue in 1974.

1989 saw Lee and Shirley retire from a mom and pop interest after fifteen years in operation together. He recalled this period – working with her – as among his most gratifying. In retirement they enjoyed the theatre and traveling when they could. They loved time with their grandchildren.

Lee remained an avid ham radio enthusiast – long after his last Heathkit and final antennae mast were put away. Although game, he was mildly flummoxed in a more recent quest to “discover the magic of the internet.”

Mr. Knowles was predeceased by his daughter, Claudia Knowles Paterson, and by Shirley Miller Knowles, his wife of fifty-five years.

He is survived by his son Scott, son-in-law David Paterson, sons Todd, Bradford, and Glenn, and their families, with twelve living grandchildren and two great grandchildren among them. His beloved nieces and nephews and their families maintained regular contact and are forever dear to his heart, as are his long-time circle of friends, neighbors, and chance new acquaintances.

Lee Knowles is the last in his generation of family elders. We will miss his great kindness and indefatigable positivity. W2UME – his call letters – has signed off for the last time.


A brief service and interment of cremains will be held outdoors at the Union Congregational Church, 176 Cooper Avenue in Upper Montclair, NJ, at 10 a.m. on June 10, followed by a 12:30 p.m. (RSVP) reception and celebration of Lee's life, to be held in West Orange, NJ.

Please reach out to Todd and Kelly with any questions or concerns regarding June 10th: wpoppylee@gmail.com