Chesterfield icon Bill Bisbee dies at 92

  • In this July 2016 photo, Edward Morrissey talks with Bill Bisbee, right, at Bisbee Mill Museum in Chesterfield. Bisbee died Sunday. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

For the Gazette
Wednesday, March 21, 2018

CHESTERFIELD — Bill Bisbee could best be described as a man with a twinkle in his eye and a song in his heart. He was well known for his love of conversation, sharing stories, working hard and contributing to his beloved Chesterfield community.

Bisbee, 92, died Sunday, bringing an end to his generation of the well-known Bisbee family in Chesterfield, a clan whose roots go back to the 1700s and the founding of the town.

Like many hilltown residents of his age, Bisbee attended a one-room schoolhouse in town. He graduated from Williamsburg High School and went on to study animal husbandry at the Stockbridge School of Agriculture, now the University of Massachusetts.

A man of many hats, Bisbee was a Korean War veteran who served in the Army 2nd Infantry. Together with his son Daniel Bisbee of Vermont, he self-published a book in 2014 titled “Nothing Glorious in the Life Over Here: Letters Home From Korea 1951-1952.”

His letters describe his duties as a platoon runner, a communications man, a machine-gun loader and a jeep driver for his company’s chaplain.

“My father never talked about the war when we were growing up, but every Memorial Day he would dust off his uniform and go to the ceremony,” his son David Bisbee of Princeton said. “He never missed a Memorial Day ceremony.”

A lifelong resident of Chesterfield, Bisbee worked at, and then became a co- owner of, the now defunct Bisbee Brothers Building Supply in Chesterfield.

He was the last of four brothers — Charles, Robert and Russell Bisbee being the others — who worked in the family business.

The family also ran a sawmill, lumberyard and a farm, as well as being the owners of the historic Bisbee Grist Mill built in 1823. That mill was donated to the Chesterfield Historical Society and now operates as a museum during the summer and fall.

“I have known Bill for most of my life,” said Peter Banister of the Chesterfield Historical Society, noting that Bisbee stayed active until shortly before his death.

“He always enjoyed himself going out to events in town,” Banister said. “Just last month we had breakfast together at the men’s breakfast at the community center.”

Banister said Bisbee was a frequent participant at meetings of the Historical Society, saying he was a fantastic resource to the group as he “knew almost everything that ever happened in Chesterfield.”

Select Board member Robert Recos said Bisbee would often share his thoughts and ideas with the Select Board.

“He would volunteer for this and that, and he always was an advocate for positive change,” Recos said.

According to Recos, when a town-owned bridge near Bisbee’s home known to people in town as the Bisbee Bridge needed painting, he volunteered to do the job himself so the town wouldn’t have to do it.

“It was looking shabby and he didn’t want to see the town have to pay for it so he did it himself and he did a great job,” Recos said.

Recos said that was about 15 years ago, making Bisbee 77 when he took on that task.

Besides being a man dedicated to his community and unafraid of hard work, Bisbee was also known for the kindness of his character.

“I was very fond of him,” Council on Aging Director Jan Gibeau said. “I never heard anybody say a negative thing about Bill, and I also never heard him say negative things about anybody.”

Former COA director Nancy Braxton said, “Bill was such a nice person. Everybody that knew him just loved him.”

Select Board Chairman Roger Fuller noted that Bisbee was also a talented singer.

“He had an excellent voice and a passion for singing,” Fuller said. “He was also very involved in the church in town and in the choir.”

David Bisbee remembers seeing his dad as a fixture in the back left of the choir loft.

“He sang in church choir for 70 years and he was also involved with the Hilltown Choral Society, and Project Opera in Northampton,” David Bisbee said. “He was a tenor and he sang at our wedding.”

One of Bisbee’s last public singing events was crooning along with sculptor, musician and songwriter James Kitchen at the community’s Third Annual Hilltown Spectacular in January.

Doc LeDuc said he only had the privelage to share a few decades with Bisbee as a relatively “new” resident.

“For me it's merely a sad day of reflection, but I noted with irony that Bill passed away in conjuction with the very ending of the final Olympics programming (Paralympics) in Korea where he served with some present glimmer of potential for peace there,” LeDuc said in an email.

Bisbee and his wife, Norma, raised their three children, David, Daniel and a daughter, Donna Bisbee of Maine, in the house they built in 1955 on Bisbee Road. Norma Bisbee died in 2010.

According to David Bisbee, his father recently came down with a bad cold and was taking a prescription medicine that made him dizzy and he suffered a fall. After a five-day stay at Cooley Dickinson Hospital, Bisbee went to Linda Manor.

“He went to Linda Manor for rehab and was fully expected to recover, but then he got pneumonia and congestive heart failure,” Bisbee’s niece Kathy Brisbois of Chesterfield said.

Bisbee had one sister, Marylou Bisbee, who now lives in Texas.

“He was a real pillar of the community. Everyone in town thought very highly of him, as did I,” Recos said. “He will be missed.”