Bill Cleary was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, not far from world famous Harvard University where he would become famous. After graduating from Belmont Hill prep school, he would go on to become one of Harvard's most famous athletes, students and later coaches.
A brilliant scorer, Cleary set all the scoring records at Harvard, seven of which still stand, including goals (42) and points (89) in a 21 game season.
Cleary was so good that both the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins tried to sign him while he was at Harvard, but he declined and had no regrets about the decisions.
"I'd have missed two Olympics. Best thing that ever happened to me was I turned down pro hockey."
Cleary represented USA at both the 1956 and 1960 Olympics, winning a silver and gold medal respectively.
The 1956 games in Cortina, Italy made a lasting impression on him.
"I was 21 and lucky to have crossed the Charles River, never mind the Atlantic Ocean," he recalls in a Sports Illustrated interview. "It was during the cold war, and the Russians marched in. Then the Koreans, and this was right after the Korean War. I looked down at the USA on my jersey, and I'll never forget the feeling. I could have won 100 Stanley Cups, and they wouldn't have equaled it."
Four years later shocked the hockey world by winning gold, knocking off the powerful Soviets in the process. It was the 25-year-old Cleary who led the 1960 team in scoring with six goals and six assists in five games.
Cleary starred on a line with Bob McVey and brother Bob Cleary. They proved to be a potent offensive combination, powering the United States to upset victories over the Canadians (2-1) and the Soviet Union (3-2).
Cleary quietly returned to Boston to sell insurance. But he soon got back into the game by becoming a college referee, much like his father.
By 1968 Cleary turned to coaching, and by 1971 he assumed the Crimson coaching reigns from the legendary Cooney Weiland until 1990. With a career record of 342-201-22, Cleary led Harvard to 11 Ivy League titles and seven Final Four appearances in the NCAA, including in 1989 when he finally captured the national title.
Cleary coached some of the all time greats at Harvard, including Lane McDonald, Scott Fusco, Mark Fusco, Ted Donato, Neil Sheehy and Don Sweeney.
After stepping down as coach in 1990, Cleary continued on at Harvard as athletic director.