William D. English, telecommunications lawyer

January 15, 2013

William D. English, 88, a lawyer who specialized in satellite telecommunications and who retired as general counsel of the satellite phone communications system Iridium, died Jan. 3 at his home in Bethesda. He had Parkinson’s disease.

His wife, Nancy English, confirmed the death.

Mr. English came to the Washington area in the early 1950s to work as a trial lawyer in the Justice Department’s criminal division. From 1956 to 1962, he was a senior lawyer at the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, where he worked on negotiations involving nuclear inspections and transport as well as the development of nuclear power plants.

In the late 1960s, he was an assistant general counsel at the new Communications Satellite Corp. (Comsat), the federally created provider of satellite telecommunications. He also became counsel to the board of Intelsat, the global communications satellite system. He played a key role in joint ventures between Comsat and satellite communications entities in other countries.

Mr. English remained a top legal executive with telecommunications businesses including Satellite Business Systems, a satellite communications venture of Comsat, IBM and the Aetna life insurance company.

From 1992 until his retirement in 1996, Mr. English was senior vice president and general counsel of Iridium. The company, then a subsidiary of Motorola, went bankrupt but has since been revived.

William DeShay English was a native of Oakland, Calif., and a 1951 graduate of the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco.

He served in the Army Air Forces in Europe during World War II. On one mission in February 1945, his plane was shot down over Hamburg, Germany, and he was among the surviving crew members taken prisoner.

He was liberated by an Army unit toward the end of the war. His decorations included the Air Medal.

Mr. English was a founding board member of the old National Chamber Orchestra, a Montgomery County organization that is now called the National Philharmonic.

His hobbies included tennis, hunting and fly fishing. He was a founding member of the Friends Creek Anglers Association. Other memberships include the Foreign Policy Discussion Group, the Metropolitan Club, the Chevy Chase Club and the Edgemoor Club in Bethesda, where he was a former parliamentarian.

Survivors include his wife of 56 years, Nancy Ames English of Bethesda; four children, Catherine McCann of Chevy Chase, Barbara Messenger of Montclair, N.J., Susan English of Cold Spring, N.Y., and Stephen English of Woodside, Calif.; a sister; and eight grandchildren.

— Adam Bernstein

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