Alyssa Miller

Goodbye, Bill

April 9, 2009 by Alyssa Miller, AOPA Online Managing Editor

Bill’s sparkly eyes, messed-up sandy hair, and friendly smile framed by years of wrinkles welcomed pilots to Jackson County Airport in Ravenswood, W.Va., for years. He was a jack of all trades: He pumped the fuel, ran the counter, and mowed the grass. He lived on the airport property, making sure the field was always secure.

I met Bill when I was a teenager helping my dad build a hangar at the airport. Every time I saw Bill, he was quick to catch up on my plans for college and flight training and to provide encouragement, along with a few laughs. When I finished college and told him that I was going to be an aviation journalist at AOPA, he treated me like I had hit the big time. But Bill had a way of treating everyone that way.

I was just at the airport a couple of weeks ago flying with my dad and noticed that Bill didn’t come out to talk. I thought he must be doing something else since it was after hours. Later, my dad learned that Bill had recently died from cancer. I never knew Bill was sick, and he probably didn’t want to burden airport visitors like me with that knowledge.

I didn’t get to say goodbye. I didn’t get to let him know that he’s the one who made me feel like the airport was my second home, even though I had only made it to Ravenswood irregularly during the past few years. Bill seemed so much a part of the airport, I guess I thought he’d endure as long as the airport itself.

So, Bill, goodbye. Thank you for making my introduction into the general aviation family so welcoming. Those of us lucky enough to know you will never forget your spirit. I hope someday I can make just one person feel as welcome in the extended family as you did for so many.

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18 Responses to “Goodbye, Bill”

  1. Herb Jacobs Says:

    Sad about Bill, and now the FAA, in its wisdom, has proposed that NO ONE is to live on any airport, anywhere. Just who are those FAA guys, our gift from GOD??

  2. Bob Hansen Says:

    Perhaps they should spend more time at the Airport and see what is realy hapening.

  3. Thomas L. Torok Says:

    I did not know Bill, but he sounds like the kind of person you would have wanted to know. Also the last time I looked around, this is America and we have the right to live anywhere we want, who the hell does the FAA think they are to say we can’t live on an airport?

  4. Ron Streicher Says:

    I didn’t know Bill either, but I have met many people like him in my travels. I am glad we still have many like him. As far as the FAA is concerned, they will have a tough time enforcing a law to prevent people from living on an airport. Its typical government control !!!!!

  5. Harry Green Says:

    When I lived in Marietta, Ohio Jerry McClung and I made the trip to Ravenswood many times for cheaper fuel and the bright smile and welcome Bill would have for us. He was the airport to us. Ron we are losing our rights every hour of every day even more so with this present government. We need to get our country back.

  6. Fred Bursch Says:

    What a nice tribute. Thank you for sharing with the rest of the flying community.

    There are a lot of other people in this world like Bill. Let’s not let our busy lives rush past them without appreciating how they make our lives better.

  7. Richard "RD" Cowgill Says:

    Bill West was one of the nicest people I’ve known. He was one of those rare people who always had nice things to say about people. Bill would always put a smile on my face by telling some humorous story or just being pleasant with good humor. In the winter I would sometimes telephone on the weekends asking him to plug in the heat to my airplane and usually he would say, “It’s already done,” with a big smile on his face I’m sure as he was almost always smiling. The JCAP is 35 miles from our home and there were many times my wife Lib and I drove over, using the excuse to look in on our airplane, just so we could spend some time with Bill and his wife Millie. We had many laughs with the two of them while we sat in their home and ate one of her delicious cake or pie creations. Millie died about a year ago. Both of them are missed.

  8. Donna Dennis Says:

    I, too, will miss Bill, and his wonderful smile! Every time I visited the airport, if Bill was there, he’d offer me a cup of his coffee – boy could he make a great cup of coffee :) It was always a pleasure to see him, and I consider myself fortunate for having known him. Bill leaves behind many really nice folks at the Jackson County Airport….he will be missed, along with others who have passed before him.

  9. Mike Says:

    I never knew Bill but he sounds like the kind of guy that has made GA what it is today and why so many people around this country love to spend time at the airport. I wish I could have met him.
    As for Herb’s report (above) of the FAA not allowing anyone to live on an airport, It’s just more proof the because of home land security/TSA this country is no longer the home of the free. The worst thing is that the general public either hasn’t relized or doesn’t care.

  10. Bicknell Eubanks Says:

    I never had the pleasure of knowing Bill. But, in over forty years of flying, I have had the pleasure of knowing several like him. They seemed to be common at all the little General Aviation airports until just the last few years. But, today, they are an endangered species thanks to the heavy hand of misguided politicians. I miss the airport characters that would smile at a kid on a bicycle and even offer him a ride.

    If a kid did try to hang out at most of our airports today I am afraid that the authorities would run him off. The public is panicked and using GA as a scapegoat. They don’t realize that there is probably a greater chance of a car crashing into their house and kiling them in bed (which happens) than there is of terrorists using a small plane to kill them.

  11. Russ Burnard Says:

    Has anyone ever explained to the FAA that a young boy or girl gets their first interest in airplanes developed by hanging out with the airplanes and pilots at the local airports. Many of those people live at the airport. There is always a hanger open, a cup of coffee, and great conversation. I am 62 yrs. young and I still stop by the airport to check on my airplane and chat with those who live there. I am asured that my airplane is safe because they are there 24-7. ” We don’t need no stinking security fence and gate”. Here where I live the airport has no fence no living restrictions and everyone goes out to the airport to walk their dogs,watch birds, jog and look at airplanes. Don’t let the a paranoid FAA take this wonderful traditional experiance away by locking them up and restricting access. I don’t think Bill would like that and he is in a higher place of power now.

  12. Charlie Trunck Says:

    I didn’t have the chance to know Bill but I am sure he will be missed. The Airport sounds like our’s at HAO in Hamilton,Ohio used to be but now all fenced in and not at all like I would have liked it to stayed. The no living at the Airport in just another thing of big brother sticking his nose where it don’t belong. God bless Bill.

  13. norm castle Says:

    Bill, and those like him and his wife are the first line of defense for crime against airplanes and airport property. We need more welcome signs and folks like Bill on our airports more than we need more regulation and security fences .

    Norm Castle
    Provo, Utah

  14. Christina Wood Says:

    I thank all of you for your kind words about my Grandfather (Bill) and my Grandmother (Millie).They will be sadly missed by everyone!!!!Bill enjoyed and loved working at the airport.It was more than just a job to him.I loved hearing all of the great stories about all of you when they would come home to Steubenville to visit.I know that I have many good memories of visiting the airport and meeting many of you.Thank you again for your kind words and concern about a wonderful man who will truly be missed. God Bless All Of You-Christina

  15. David Martin Says:

    I just saw this post today and I knew Bill without ever meeting him! He sounds like so many fine people at so many small airports around this great land. I know he will be missed but think of all of those kids who will never get a plane ride, all those pilots passing through who will never see that smile and all of those government officials who will never learn what GA in this country is really all about. It was wonderful to read your report about Bill. People like him made GA strong. Maybe one day YOU and I can fill his larger than life shoes. Be like Bill!

  16. Bill Lambright Says:

    GREAT article Alyssa! It caught my eye because my name too is “Bill”. I agree 100% with David Martin and the others who wrote about Bill and countless other men and women in the General Aviation community who take time to talk and inspire young people who are aspiring pilots or pilot/writers like yourself.

    One such pilot/writer you may not be aware of is Gordon Baxter. I grew up listening to Bax on the radio in my hometown in SE Texas. I listened to him when he got his private license; flew into hurricanes as a news reporter and the many tales of flying his beloved Stearman and Moony.

    If you’ve never read any of Bax’s articles you can find out about him here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Baxter

    You’ll be inspired as I was and you were by “Bill”

  17. Bill Worden aka Froggy Says:

    Dear Ms Miller: I didn’t know Bill, but from your description, he sounds like my kind of guy! I have been digging our articles with your by line ever since I read about your flight in the MIG-15. I don’t know if you are like some ladies I know but you get better with age.
    Froggy Worden

  18. Bill Worden aka Froggy Says:

    Bill Worden aka Froggy Says:

    May 30th, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    Dear Ms Miller: I didn’t know Bill, but from your description, he sounds like my kind of guy! I have been digging our articles with your by line ever since I read about your flight in the MIG-15. I don’t know if you are like some ladies I know but you get better with age.
    Froggy Worden

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