Bill Smith, an avid outdoorsman and community builder who loved a good pun, passed away in his sleep on Friday, Nov. 18.
He was 81 years old.
He is survived by his wife of 52 years, Trish; daughter Marney; son Matt; grandchildren Sabra, Gus, Harry, Vivian, Franny, and Eddie; his sister Mary Anne, son-in-law Scott, daughter-in-law Dara, and scores of nieces, nephews, cousins, in-laws and friends.
Billy, as he was affectionately called by those closest to him, will be remembered by friends and family for his love of animals, flowers, poetry, music, education and humor. He adored “old time country music”, bluegrass, gospel, and Elvis. He was particularly fond of the poems of Ogden Nash, Shel Silverstein, and the wit of The Far Side.
Together, Bill and Trish made sure their children, nieces and nephews knew the value of family, education, and travel. Many family vacations to Mexico, Europe, Asia, South America and throughout the United States introduced the younger generations to the values of knowing other cultures, languages, and cuisine. Those trips also inspired Bill with ideas for his developments in ways that resulted in community gathering spaces.
Bill loved his work. He always said that “’work’ is what I have to do when I’d rather being doing something else … and I don’t ‘work’ very much.” He kept office hours seven days a week, often starting in the wee hours of the morning, to well past dinner time. His light was always on. His drive and dedication were unmatched because he loved everything about what he was doing. His intensity was legendary. When asked when he’d retire, he would say he was taking his retirement “five minutes at a time.”
Bill grew up hunting and fishing with his father, Marine, and his brother John. He was a phenomenal wing shooter and loved to hunt birds. Many was the morning he could be found before work with his tie tucked into his hunting vest and his hip waders over his khakis to jump shoot a few ducks before going into the office. He considered the pinnacle of hunting achievements to be a ‘downhill triple’ on chukar.
A lifelong bird hunter and fisherman, Billy often reminisced that he had three job offers out of grad school, “two for money and one in Bend. I took the one in Bend so I could hunt and fish.”
“I do dirt” was one of Billy’s iconic sayings. “Doing Dirt” was the nexus of his love of the outdoors, animals, family ranches, agriculture, environmental stewardship and people, merging with his ability to create win-win solutions and turn them in to viable business deals. This became his trademark skill. He orchestrated the federal land exchanges that created what are now the Sutton Mountain and Pat’s Cabin Wilderness Study areas, as well as the public lands at Criterion Summit. He consolidated scattered public holdings into a format usable by the public and helped preserve the working landscapes of many local family ranches in the process. His fingerprints are all over the rural landscape of Central and Eastern Oregon.
Bill was born in Tucson, Arizona on Aug. 10, 1941. The second oldest of five children, he spent most of his childhood in Denver with his sisters Cheryl, Jane, and Mary Ann, and his brother John. His mother Evelyn and grandmother Elizabeth, a German immigrant who lived with the family, instilled in him the importance of hard work and education, and the value of a beautiful garden.
An entrepreneur from an early age, Bill started a lawn-mowing business his freshman year in high school, taking advantage of a unique 6 a.m. to noon class schedule due to overcrowding. He spent the rest of his time working at his uncle Bill’s trucking company loading cargo and learning accounting.
Bill went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts in economics from the University of Colorado in Boulder in 1964 before joining the Navy as an officer that same year. He spent four years as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Supply Corps, including time on the U.S.S. Alfred A. Cunningham destroyer off the coast of Vietnam, and a year in Saigon which led up to the Tet Offensive.
After four years of service, Billy enrolled in Stanford University’s MBA program, developing lifelong friendships and earning the attention of Stanford alumnus Mike Hollern, and an internship in Bend with the Brooks-Scanlon Lumber Company in the summer of 1969. Oct. 4 of the same year, Bill attended a fateful college party where he met and fell in love with Trish. They were engaged by Christmas and married the following June.
Bill accepted the job as the Marketing Manager for Brooks Resources, the lumber company’s real estate subsidiary. Bill and Trish moved to Bend, leasing the only available rental house in all of Bend at the time, thanks to Sue Hollern who put down the deposit with her grocery money. In two years, they welcomed their son Matthew and shortly after their daughter Marney.
Billy made an immediate impact at Brooks-Scanlon as the lumber giant was looking at ways to pivot beyond the timber industry. He promptly took over the marketing of what would become Black Butte Ranch, the first of many developments in Central Oregon that would bear his fingerprints.
Bill rose up the ranks at Brooks-Scanlon and served as the President of Brooks Resources for 10 years starting in 1973, where he also developed a love for keeping an office cat. In 1984, he left Brooks Resources and founded William Smith Properties, Inc (WSPI), complete with an office kitty, and his assistant Linda Balding, who loyally stayed by his side for 32 years until her retirement. Shortly after Bill formed WSPI, he was joined by Dixie Brown and Mary Campbell who also stayed with the company for over 30 years and together established WSPI as one of the premier rural, agricultural, and small community real estate developers in the Pacific Northwest.
In 1993, Bill and six other investors bought 270 acres of abandoned mill property that eventually became the Old Mill District and Hayden Homes Amphitheater. The mixed-use development has become emblematic of Bend’s evolving economy over the past 30 years as it moved from timber and the wood industries to recreation and tourism.
His efforts in developing what had been a brownfield site into the Old Mill District earned him a Phoenix Award in 2002 from the Environmental Protection Agency. While the Old Mill District became William Smith Properties’ most visible project, Bill ensured his company was built upon an entirely diverse portfolio. Today WSPI, managed by his team of more than 20 employees, has ongoing development and management projects in the Tri-Cities, Washington area; multiple office complexes in Bend; a development partnership with Central Oregon Community College; and manages and operates two historic cattle ranches in Central and Eastern Oregon. Millsite Landscape Services, which helps keep the Old Mill District and neighborhoods throughout Central Oregon beautiful, is also part of the WSPI family.
Throughout his lifetime Bill served on a number of boards, including Crown Pacific, Deschutes Land Trust, Deschutes River Conservancy, Endeavor Capital, Les Schwab Tires, Oregon Wildlife Heritage Foundation, the Oregon Water Trust, the Oregon Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, and Nosler. He and his wife Trish also championed Oregon Public Broadcasting, Central Oregon Community College, Oregon State University Cascades Campus, OWEB, the Oregon Community Foundation, and St. Charles. If fact, after his partnership with Sister Catherine Hellmann of St. Charles and their successful efforts to secure land where St. Charles now sits, Billy became an honorary member of the Sisters of St. Joseph “second to nun.”
Billy loved music, people and flowers and believed building a beautiful district with a music venue where the community could gather improved the quality of life in Bend. One of his goals was to create a community where the economy could support good jobs for the future and children would not have to move away to find work and education. He believed part of the magic of Bend is that we’re friendly to each other and take the time to smile. Everywhere he traveled he spent time picking up litter, picking weeds, and planting flowers. He had trays of sunflower seeds he hand collected from ranches throughout Oregon which he would broadcast on his walks.
A celebration of life for Billy will be held at the Hayden Homes Amphitheater on May 23 from 1-3 p.m. Bill and Trish have long supported higher education. Those wishing to donate in his memory are encouraged to look at the Central Oregon Community College Foundation, which since 1955 has provided scholarships for students to attend COCC.
On your next walk, notice the flowers, pick up the litter, and smile at a stranger.
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