Willis Edmond “Bill” Williams, set sail for eternity at age 94 on December 16, from Hope Hospice, Fort Myers, Florida. The sun was bright, the breeze light and a newly bloomed Bird of Paradise waved him on. A private memorial service was held for him New Year’s Day.
Bill and his wife Sara (Kincaid) weathered 42 years together. Their two children are Colin (Natasha Mann) of Seattle and Winston, recently relocated to Orcas.
On Saturday, August 19, Bill’s family and friends will celebrate the life of an Orcas Island ‘character,’ a generous, tale-telling, larger-than-life personality. Drop in at the Williams’ home, 510 Cayou Valley Road, for bites, barbecue, and brew. Share your ‘Bill’ story from 4 to 8 p.m. For details, call 376-6655 or email Sara (firstname.lastname@example.org).
In 1962, Bill, newly arrived from California, acquired the moribund Buckhorn Lodge, platted lots and acreage on the North Shore. Bill loved to fish, hunt and cook. He turned the lodge into a rollicking establishment where guests could fish for their own dinner. Bill later developed the Raccoon Point and Cayou Valley subdivisions.
Bill was born September 28, 1922, in Terre Haute, Indiana, the only son of two only children, Willis E. Williams, Jr., born in 1900 and Helen Metzger, in 1901. Bill spent his early years in Yorkshire, England where his dad, a mechanical engineer, worked for a British firm.
The family returned to Indiana in 1929, unaware that the Great Depression had begun. Eventually, Bill’s dad packed him off to Culver Military Academy in northern Indiana when he decided his rambunctious son could stand a dose of discipline.
Bill discovered Cuba when his Culver roommate invited him home for a school holiday. He found himself in the mayor’s residence in the middle of Havana. Bill loved Cuba and later made small boat runs from the Florida Keys to Cuban ports, delivering American goods before the revolution.
As World War II broke out, Bill worked for Higgins Industries in New Orleans, Louisiana. A builder of flatboats for negotiating swamps and marshes, Higgins designed and built the landing craft for the Normandy Invasion. Bill enlisted in the military in 1943; after , he war he worked for the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Bill loved the challenge of starting new businesses. When home air conditioners were developed, he sold them by the carload from a rail siding in Houston, TX. He owned a cattle ranch in the rugged Tres Piedras country of New Mexico and lost it to a drought. He built houses in California.
By 1974, weary of real estate projects, Bill introduced himself to Sara at a convention at the Rosario Resort where he was a guest of honor and she was a P.R. director. “Are you ready to go sailing around the world?” he said. “Why not?” she said.
In 1976, the pair set sail from Friday Harbor on a Friday, the Ides of March, in a heavily provisioned saucer of a ketch. As it happened, the couple sailed into one of the worst Pacific storms on record. They survived the crossing but lost the crippled vessel on a reef as they approached the Island of Maui. Their ten-day stay became a six-year love affair with Maui, where their sons Colin and Winston were born. Bill founded a ceiling fan business and Sara became a real estate broker.
In the middle 80s, the family moved to Fort Myers so that the boys would get to know their grandparents. Bill relocated his business and Sara became a columnist/staff writer for the News-Press.
From their Florida base, Bill and his Mexican sailing buddy Xavier Petron set off with the two boys on an Albin sloop, the Poco Loco, bound for Central America via the Florida Keys, the Yucatan Peninsula, Honduras, Belize and the Rio Dulce River in Guatemala.
Bill’s restless nature left him always in need of a project. His beloved Orcas called him home once again when the property in Cayou Valley became available. The family returned to Orcas full-time in 1996 where Bill established their permanent home.
Bill’s extended family includes Jim Stearman (Nance), of Austin, Texas; Willis Williams, Jr., (Laura) of Negril, Jamaica; Christine Shaw and Jim Winslow of Woodstock, New Hampshire, and John Hendricks of Olympia, Washington, son of one of Bill’s best friends. John adopted Bill as an ‘alter-dad,’ at age 11.
Bill’s grandchildren are: Elizabeth Williams of Los Angeles, California, U.S. Coast Guard Ensign Luke Lopez, Morgan City, Louisiana, and Wyatt Mann Williams, age 1, of Seattle, whose contagious smile brightened the final days of his grandfather’s life.