A native of Warren, Pa., Mr. Genge was a World War II pilot who spent nearly a year as a prisoner of war in Germany after his plane was shot down in 1944. Decades later, he became a visible figure in Western Pennsylvania's nonprofit community, serving in such varied positions as a University of Pittsburgh trustee and member of the board of directors of Allegheny General Hospital and the Pittsburgh Symphony Society, among many others.
But in the advertising world, Mr. Genge was known for achievements with a firm that helped place Pittsburgh on the industry's map. He loved Pittsburgh, said his daughter, Deborah Genge Dick, and he was determined to keep Ketchum headquartered here during his tenure.
Mr. Genge, a graduate of Pitt as well as Harvard University's International Marketing Institute, turned a passion for writing into an advertising career in which he worked his way up at Ketchum from account executive to president in 1970, and later its chief executive.
"He wasn't a braggart type of guy. He was an unassuming man who was quietly efficient," said Jerry Voros, 75, a retired president and chief operating officer at Ketchum and a close friend. "I think that's where his success came in."
During World War II, Mr. Genge was a first lieutenant stationed in England. According to The Pittsburgh Press archives, he was on his eighth trip behind enemy lines in early 1944 when his plane was struck by ground fire over the Dutch countryside, forcing him to parachute into a canal.
A 1991 Press article quoted a Ketchum biography that was perhaps reflective of Mr. Genge's sense of humor, which could be self-deprecating at times. The bio said he flew planes "but not too successfully."
"The true story is, I brought down two planes in combat. Unfortunately, I was in both of them," he was quoted as saying.
Recruited by Ketchum founder George Ketchum, Mr. Genge joined the firm in 1953 after working as a writer for five years at Gulf Oil Corp.
From 1979 through 1991, he was chairman and chief executive officer of Ketchum, a firm that operated among its ventures one of the nation's largest advertising agencies. Under his leadership, it grew from an operation with a single office in Pittsburgh to a giant with offices in 12 U.S. cities and eight foreign countries. Worldwide billings topped $1.1 billion shortly before he stepped down -- more than four times what they were when he took the reins.
During Mr. Genge's tenure, Ketchum worked with client Westinghouse to sponsor the earliest televised NCAA football games in the 1950s and later developed ads introducing Acura cars to the U.S. market, Mr. Voros said. The firm also worked with such big name accounts as Alcoa, Heinz, Calgon, Stouffers, Bank of America and -- as Ketchum became global in its reach -- Japan Airlines.
Mr. Genge was an elder at Shadyside Presbyterian Church and was highly active in community and philanthropic circles. He held various professional posts including past director of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, United Way, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Carnegie Institute and others.
He was a Chatham College trustee and on the board of directors of the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony, the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council, the Executive Service Corp., the Pittsburgh Opera Theatre and Carnegie Music Hall, his family said.
At Pitt, he chaired a $250 million capital campaign.
"Bill was one of the longest-serving, most actively engaged and intensely loyal members of the University of Pittsburgh's board of trustees," Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg said. "He also was a true gentleman who will be deeply missed within the Pitt community."
Mr. Genge, who liked to vacation on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts, belonged to the Duquesne Club. But his daughter said he was just as likely to be spotted at Pamela's in Shadyside eating a grilled cheese sandwich.
"That's the kind of person he was," she said.
In 2001, Mr. Genge was inducted into the Pittsburgh Advertising Club Hall of Fame. He and his daughter attracted a crowd of more than 400 in October as they were honored at H'art & Soul of Haiti, the annual benefit for Hospital Albert Schweitzer in Haiti.
Mr. Genge's wife of 46 years, Beverly Genge, died in 1991."
Gravesite Details From Allegheny Cemetery Records
Sponsored by Ancestry