William (Bill) Speare Page

24th August 1915 - 31st May 1999


Bill's Father

William Henry Speare

Bill's Brother

Clifford Speare


Bill Speare & family

 

Eulogy of Bill Speare delivered by Bob Robertson at St John's Anglican church, Quesnel, British Columbia, Canada 5th June 1999

We are gathered here today to mourn, remember and celebrate the life of William (Bill) Speare.

I have been fortunate to have known Bill for over 30 years, and, I must admit, at a time such as today, I feel honoured to have the opportunity to say a few words about him. It's the chance to reflect on the life of a friend, a father, a grandfather and a husband who was truly unique, and as some have said, "One of a kind."

I know we are all united in our mourning for Bill, and united in our respect and affection for him. He would understand that today is a sad occasion. But he always wanted people to enjoy life and the joys and experiences it could bring. So today, 1 would like to look at Bill's life; to celebrate his achievements; his many contributions and his sentiments about his family and friends.

Bill was born in Winnipeg in 1915 to parents who had come from England just prior to World War I. They returned to England, however, since his father felt compelled to join up and do his part in army service in that conflict. When the war was over. the family back to Winnipeg, (except Bill's mother who had succumbed to the 'Flu epidemic so wide-spread at that time). Bill's father married again, and as there was little work in Winnipeg, they moved to Chicago where construction work offered a better living.

Bill took all his formal education in Chicago, and went on to graduate from the Chicago Art Academy, the Chicago School of Art and the American Art Institute. Following graduation he became an artist for an advertising agency and was chief art director for the Blackstone Theatre of that city. About 1936, he decided to become a freelance artist a- he felt this would give him the key to seeing a lot more of the world. So he packed up his brushes and canvases and headed for New Orleans. He loved life in this cosmopolitan city. and besides freelancing, was offered a great deal of work in painting huge murals, a form of art for which he became well-known.

Only three years after Bill moved to New Orleans, the second war broke out. Patriotism for Canada and Britain brought him back to Canada in 1941 to join the army. He received officer's status at Gordon Head, Victoria, and he finally shipped out of Halifax to England. In Aldershot, he was assigned to the Sherbrook Fusiliers — a tank corps that covered the maneuvers of a French-Canadian Infantry unit, the Chaudiers, and trained intensively with them in preparation for D-Day.

On June 4, 1944, along with many contingents of the Canadian Army, they sailed from Southampton across the Channel. Bill, by this time was a Captain in charge of a tank corps. They landed on the coast of Normandy June 6th. By mid-August, 1944, the Sherbrook Fusiliers' had moved into the area of France where they fought the Battle of Falaise. On the 30th of August. Bill lost his right arm while signaling his tanks to move forward. He was flown to a hospital in Leavesham south of London, and after a period of convalescence, Bill returned to Camp Borden, Ontario, by hospital ship.

At this point, because of his art education, he became part of the traveling Army show, the Tin Hats. Recruiting talent for these shows took considerable time as there were several shows playing throughout the country as a means of promoting support for the war effort.

Bill was discharged from the Army December 1945 with the rank of Captain.

With the war over and the Army show and cast disbanded. Bill and his first wife. Sue, whom he met during his time with the Army shows, came to the Cariboo and purchased acreage at Bouchie Lake —against the advice of Chuck Beath, Ford Motors dealership in Quesnel, who warned him that all he would be able to raise at Bouchie Lake was an umbrella. He did that, but he also raised two children of whom he was very proud — April and Dan.

Bill became manager of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 94 from 1949 to 1951, and canvassed the area for support of a legion lounge adjacent to the existing hall. He then embarked upon the famous mural depicting Cariboo history which was lost in the fire of 1995 From 1951 to 1961, Bill was Administrator of both the Quesnel General Hospital and the G. R. Baker Memorial Hospital, the first phase of which was built during his administration. Bill was elected to represent the Cariboo in the Provincial Legislature 1956 — 1966, and was instrumental in interesting Premier W.A.C. Bennett in preserving the historic town of Barkerville as a Government Centennial project for 1958. In 1966, Bill married Jean and for the next ten years was Administrator of the Cariboo Memorial Hospital, Williams Lake. On retirement, Bill and Jean spent two years in England and Scotland before returning to the Cariboo to build a second
home at Bouchie Lake. While in Britain, Bill and Jean travelled extensively and Bill took time to renew his love of painting. Since about 1988, Bill has struggled with poor health. However, in the fall of 1996, Bill was honoured to have his many community-minded accomplishments recognized when Mayor Steve
Wallace made him a Freeman of the City of Quesnel.

To give you a flavour of how Bill looked at life, I asked some of you who were close to Bill to provide some memories which we could share. Here are some anecdotes that reflect who Bill was and what he enjoyed.

1) Bill never did anything by halves -- good or bad — and along with this trait, he was a perfectionist. When he ordered a truckload of old bricks to finish the outside of a very fine home he was building on the outskirts of Victoria and a load of new bricks came. that was not good enough. The bricks went back to the brickyard, much to the disgust of the contractor.

2) Although Bill adapted well and succeeded even better at any endeavour he undertook, as a farmer he was not a whirlwind on the acreage he bought at Bouchie Lake following the war. For one thing, a large portion of it needed clearing of stumps left over from a fire. He did this by placing dynamite into the bases of the stumps in order to "blow" them. After the dynamite had exploded, there were always some stumps that did not uproot, but smouldered and rumbled around for a few days. Bill would observe them over an additional few days before moving in for a repeat performance. An acquaintance once said, ".....and you at one time went into Falaise with a squadron of tanks?" "Well," Bill said, "it seems ironic, but there are times when you have no choice."

3) Bill's first stint as a hospital administrator in Quesnel came shortly after the end of the war. He was open to hiring as many European immigrants as possible to the staff, and many of these unfortunate people had no means or papers of identification, having been bombed out of their homes. Others had been stripped
of their identities in prison camps. No one understood their plight better than Bill — who had been there - and he worked relentlessly with various embassies to establish the new citizens with the necessary proofs to make them an undisputed part of their new country.

4) There are countless vignettes of Bill's experience as an administrator. When one old gold miner was successfully nursed back to health, the happy patient asked Bill what he could give the nurses to show his appreciation. Bill quickly counted up the nursing staff and said, " Give me a dozen of your best nuggets
and I will see to it that the girls get them." That month, each pay cheque was decorated with a nugget.

5) Another time, on a dark night when Bill sat working in his hospital office, the outside doorbell rang insistently. Thinking this could be a major catastrophe. Bill rushed to the door, pulling a handy stretcher along with him. Peering into the darkness, he recognized the man standing there.

"Have you had an accident, Joe?" he asked.

"Hell no," said Joe, "but I've got a moose here. Thought you could use it in the kitchen." Not
having to be concerned with dietitians those days, the moose was flopped onto the stretcher, covered discreetly with a white sheet and wheeled away to basement storage, its ungainly legs dangling on either side to the floor.

6) During Bill's hospital years, he hired many colourful employees, none more colourful than Valerie Morgan, whose name eventually changed to Valerie Dyck. Val was an English nurse, trained at Bart's Hospital, London. She had the edge on most humorists with her crisp good humour and delightful delivery.  One lunch hour in the communal dining room of the old Quesnel Hospital, it was suggested by the administrator that we all be on our best behaviour since Bill was entertaining a group of VlP's from Victoria in his early attempts to get funding to start construction of the new G. R. Baker Hospital. Val was seated among us. At the end of the meal, Val made no obvious effort to subdue a voluminous "BURP" which literally rumbled around the dining room. All eyes were turned upon her in sheer horror. Bill's being the most horrific. Val returned his stare with absolute calm.

"Mr. Speare," she said without apology, "what did you expect — chimes?''

7) Here's one that Bill liked to tell one himself. Everyone knows how sound carries across water, even over the sound of an outboard motor. Two fishermen where put-putting past Bill's home on the lake one sunny morning while he sat out the deck having his coffee. One man said to the other, "Who lives in that house up there?" "Oh," replied the other disparagingly, "That's that one-armed son-of-a-B who's our member in Victoria." Bill loved that as it reflected what politics was all about and he knew you couldn't please everyone!

In the last ten years, in spite of adverse physical challenges, he continued to show interest in the key elements of his life — art, literature, history, current events, and always a concern for "the little things."

It was through the compassionate care of family members, special acquaintances and the attentive staff of Baker Lodge that Bill was able to endure his worsening physical condition. 

In summary. Bill had a full and rewarding life He served Canada well during World War 11; he was an MLA for many years on behalf of the Cariboo, and he was proclaimed a Freeman of the City of Quesnel for his many years of service. He was, of course, a husband, father and grandfather which added that special dimension to his life.

I mentioned that the City of 'Quesnel honoured Bill proclaiming him a Freeman of the City — at 10:00 p.m. on May 31, 1999, Bill was released from his physical restrictions, and he truly became a Free Man.