William Preston

Obituary of William Cecil Preston

William “Bill” Cecil Preston died of natural causes, at age 96, on June 25, 2022 at Brookdale Fairhaven assisted living, Bellingham, WA. He was born in Salem, Illinois on December 14, 1925 to Mary
L.“Mayme”(Williams) and Clyde L. Preston. 

When Bill was 3 years old, the family moved to Watsonville, CA where his father worked for Southern Pacific railroad.

As young men, all four brothers joined the Navy during WWII. Bill’s rank was Fireman First Class and he was stationed in New Caledonia, South Pacific. Their mother received a letter from James Forrestal (the last US Secretary of the Navy and first US Secretary of Defense) as a tribute to her for her four boys being in the Pacific theater at the same time during the war. Gratefully, they all returned safely.

Other than Bill and Dean, the siblings moved to other parts of California. Both brothers worked for Bell Telephone. Bill became a lineman and splicer. He met Rhoda “Virginia” Beck (originally of Nanaimo, BC, Canada) at a dance at the nurses’ home (single women RNs of the time mostly lived there). They married in 1950 and made their home on Hill Avenue, Watsonville. Their only child Rhoda Anne was born in 1954.

In 1962 Bill and a crew of telephone repair workers were called upon to be flown to Oregon to help with clean up, repair and re-establishment of service over a large area after the
“Columbus Day Storm” there. It ranks among the most intense to strike the PNW, likely since the January 9, 1880 "Great Gale" and snowstorm. At one point it was a Category 3 typhoon and caused extensive damage and fatalities from Northern California to British Columbia.

The crew of 220 California telephone workers were recognized later for their teamwork and contributions under difficult conditions. But on the return flight with Bill and 32 other tired telephone workers aboard the DC7, it suddenly lost its rudder and stabilizer causing a dramatic loss of control. The pilot reported “the telephone men cooperated wonderfully. There was no panic.” He had to make an emergency landing at Mather AIr Force Base, CA after several harrowing minutes of the pilot struggling to keep the plane from yawing and pitching. The plane spun after landing but no one was hurt. The pilot wrote up what happened in the San Jose Mercury News on October 28, 1962. The article headline said “SJ Pilot’s Story: My ‘Near-Miracle’ Landing”. Needless to say, this was a memorable event in Bill’s life.

Virginia and Bill worked 30+ years in their respective careers and retired from Watsonville to Cedar Grove MHP, Bellingham, WA in 1980 to be closer to Virginia’s elderly mother, Rhoda May Beck, in Nanaimo. Bill loved walking and fishing at Lake Padden. This love passed down to his daughter and grandsons to this day. Bill and Virginia enjoyed a quiet retirement amongst the cedars, firs, lakes and rains of the PNW.

Virginia died of lung cancer in 1998 and Bill very much struggled with that loss. Virginia’s ashes were scattered at Lake Padden, Mt. Baker and Cameron Lake, Vancouver Island.

In 2014 Rhoda moved from Tucson, AZ to a separate home in Cedar Grove to be closer to Bill who was 89 then. After an injury a year later, Bill sold his house and car and moved in with his daughter. In 2018 he moved to Brookdale Fairhaven. The facility had to shut down to visitors due to Covid in 2020. Bill could only “window visit” for nearly a year but very few residents caught the virus and the staff did an excellent job caring for him and the others in exigent circumstances. Family and friends celebrated his 95th birthday outside of the dining room window at Brookdale (see above photo) with “inside” and “outside” cake. He remained cheerful and seemed to cope with the isolation with his usual grace and generosity of spirit. Happily, everyone there got vaccinated in early 2021. Bill enjoyed excellent loving care, good food, the companionship of peers and finally, when the lockdown was lifted, in-person but masked visits resumed with family and friends.

As his health declined, Whatcom Hospice provided compassionate, palliative support for his comfort. In addition, Brookdale caregivers stepped up his care admirably as he needed more attention. He was always generous with his signature “thumbs up” and big smile when he was up to it. He often asked “why can’t I get around better?”, and he struggled to accept that he was 96+ years old!

Bill will be deeply missed and survived by daughter Rhoda Preston Flint of Bellingham, his loving grandsons James “Preston” Smith of Bellingham and Neil “Cameron” Smith and Julie Neuman of Asheville, NC; Mike “Kenneth” and LouAnne Preston, grandnephew Shawn and Melody Preston, niece Lindsay and Steve Crane, niece Catherine Preston, nephew Lloyd
“Skip” and Elaine Scanlon, niece Donna DiPaola and grandniece Heather and Paul Bickford.

Bill is predeceased by his wife Rhoda “Virginia” Preston; his 6 siblings; Charles G. Preston, Evelyn L. Ray, Nadine F. Dennis, Mina A. Scanlon, Joseph E. Preston and Dean I. Preston. Also by niece Judy L. Dennis and nephew David Preston.

We’d like to express appreciation to faithful friends for enriching Bill’s life; the Lapof family, the Bowman and Sexton families, and Marilyn Flint & Harvey Rossiter. He loved you all.

His family would also like to acknowledge the many ways in which childhood trauma, war, mental illness, substance use disorders, PTSD and the pandemic played roles in his and their lives. Bill’s incredible resilience, tenacity, optimism and desire to always do better influenced us to work at becoming healthier mentally, physically and spiritually. May those who struggle with any of these life-altering difficulties find hope, help, health and recovery.

- A Celebration of Bill’s Life is planned for 3pm, Wednesday, November 2, 2022; Dia de Los Muertos (or Day of the Dead) at the Clubhouse in Cedar Grove, 4915 Samish Way, Bellingham, WA. Please bring a photo of a loved one who’s died that you’d like to honor at the “ofrenda” which will be decorated for the occasion. You may bring a favorite small item as an “offering” for your loved one or Bill; be it a favorite food, drink or memento. Contact Rhoda Preston Flint to RSVP or for more info.
- If you wish to make a donation in Bill’s honor, please consider Whatcom Hospice Foundation.

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