Remembering Bill Backer

Bill Backer photo
Piedmont Foundation President Bill Backer was an avid conservationist and long-time friend of PEC’s.

A brilliant communicator, Mr. Backer created iconic advertising campaigns such as the 1971 “Hilltop” commercial for Coca Cola featuring his jingle “I’d like to Teach the World to Sing,” “Tastes Great, Less Filling” and “MillerTime” for Miller Lite, and “Soup is good food” for Campbell.

Mr. Backer’s long engagement with PEC took on national stature during a 1993-1994 debate over the Disney’s America development proposal near Haymarket, Virginia. He encouraged PEC to focus its message on the viability of alternative locations for a theme park in the Washington metropolitan area that would have less impact on the region’s traffic, air quality, and history, and avoid the sprawling development that resulted from other Disney projects. His ideas became known as the “Disney: Take a Second Look Campaign,” which focused on alternative sites which became the basis for the Coalition for Smarter Growth’s Blueprint for a Better Region, a vision for transit oriented development in the Washington region.

Mr. Backer became President of the Piedmont Foundation in 2004, which supports The Piedmont Environmental Council. As President, he led the Foundation’s first capital campaign, raising over $15 million in gifts and pledges, including funding for the Piedmont Memorial Overlook, a conserved open space site adjacent to Sky Meadows State Park and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, with expansive views of over 100,000 acres of conserved land in Fauquier and Loudoun Counties.

Looking up from the keyboard of a piano, on which he accompanied himself as he sang the words, he explained the message of the commercial, the perfect harmony of warm feelings with the product being advertised. What it achieved, he said, was to remind viewers that the product could in some small way serve as a “social catalyst,” uniting people whose differences in nationality, race and physical appearance were merely superficial. “Sometimes,” he said, “communications get better if you’re just sitting over a bottle of Coke and looking people in the eye.

— Martin Weil, Washington Post, May 17, 2016

Per her husband’s wishes, Ann Backer plans to scatter his ashes in the Blue Ridge Mountains, overlooking Virginia’s Paris Valley. Which is fitting; the man who wanted to buy the world a Coke, it seems, was always fond of hilltops.

— Max Kutner, Newsweek, May 17, 2016

Read the Summer 2016 President’s Letter by Chris Miller for more about Bill Backer and his dedication to conservation of the Piedmont and to PEC. Bill will be sorely missed.

If you are interested in contributing. Learn more about PEC’s Bill Backer Legacy Society >>

This article was featured in our Summer 2016 Member Newsletter, The Piedmont View.