I’ll never forget the day former Chronicle publisher Pat Schmidt introduced me to Bill Powell.
I was just a kid, really, 24 years old and was assuming the reins of the Chronicle from Pat. He was taking me around town to meet various people.
Pat took me to Bill Powell’s store where I met a man with an amazing presence that I’ve rarely seen in anyone else, an air of grace, pride, gentleness of spirit and good humor. He wore a suit, and his shoes were perfectly polished.
I knew I had met a true gentleman.
We quickly became friends. Bill loved to show me the photographs he took as a photo reconnaissance pilot during World War II, flying his unarmed, lightly-armored P-38 behind enemy lines for pre-mission surveillance or post-mission bomb damage assessment and the like. I loved airplanes, and I loved to talk about them with Bill and look at the photos. His shots of Normandy Beach just before D-Day were nothing short of amazing.
When you walked into Bill and Lucy’s store, you were treated like a king. Bill and Lucy came from the day when customers were placed on a pedestal. Bill had a special touch. I think he wrote the book on customer service.
Bill had a twinkle in his eye. He told Henny Youngman-style jokes, groaners that made you cringe and laugh all at the same. And he loved the same kind of jokes from others. I remember him quoting with delight the time George Oswald walked into his store and said, “Bill, has anybody ever told you what a swell guy you are?”
“Why, no,” Bill replied, modestly.
“See!” George replied and walked out the door.
It is not an overstatement to say that Bill Powell was a hero – a member of the Greatest Generation that won the war and then built America into an even more powerful nation. I can name many more people made of the same fabric from Lovell and north Big Horn County, but Bill was certainly a shining example.
There were so very many facets to Bill Powell – his hard-working upbringing, his military career, his long service to his community and his church, his leadership in economic development, his long tenure as a businessman on Main Street, his love of the trumpet and his development of the Mustang Band and the Dollies of the Follies – Lovell’s unofficial ambassadors – and his unwavering patriotism and dedication to veterans that led him to organize Memorial Day and Veterans Day services for many, many years.
Bill was all of those things and more, but what I really appreciated about Bill was his loyalty to and his pride in his country and his community. His feelings were summed up in a statement he made many years ago and quoted in this newspaper:
“I’ve lived in a wonderful country and had a wonderful time. I’ve raised a family and am proud of each and every one of them. I’m proud to be an American with the blessings and freedoms we enjoy. We’re free to travel, free to work in a place we want to work. We have freedom of speech, clean air, clean water, a wonderful food supply supplied by wonderful farmers. We are a blessed people.”
That pride filled Bill’s heart and should be an example to all of us.
Bill Powell died May 26 at the age of 88. He was sharp of mind and full of spirit to the end.
We will miss Bill Powell and those like him. He was a great and kind man.