William (Wild Bill) Richard DeVries
Feb. 2, 1944 – Aug. 9, 2018
William (Wild Bill) Richard DeVries, 74, died Aug. 9, 2018, in the company of two close friends.
Bill never craved publicity. He liked to keep a low profile and would probably frown on exposure like this remembrance. But Bill was one of this community’s hidden treasures and, mostly behind the scenes, he touched a lot of lives around here. So maybe he could forgive us for reminiscing a bit in our effort to begin learning how to carry on without him.
In the fall of 2015 Bill was hospitalized with an inexplicable, antibiotic resistant infection. Months of hospitalization ended with amputation of one leg above the knee. The infection was finally gone but, over time, Bill’s outlook and general health declined until he lost his grasp of life.
Bill was born Feb. 2, 1944, in Muskegon, Michigan, where his father worked in a foundry during World War II. He was the second of two children of Richard J. and Gertrude F. DeVries (formerly Brummeler). They moved to Grand Rapids in 1945 where Bill attended Madison Elementary School and South High School (class of 1962). After graduating University of Michigan in 1966 he served in the U.S. Marines for two years and was in Vietnam for the Tet Offensive. Bill tried social work for a year after his discharge before attending and graduating Wayne State University Law School.
In 1967 Bill married Virginia “Ginny” Piercey. They moved to Anchorage in 1972 where he practiced law with M. (Mahala) Ashley Dickerson, the first black woman to obtain a law degree from the state of Georgia. Bill appealed a case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court his first year working with Ms. Dickerson.
Ginny and Bill returned to Grand Rapids in 1975 after his mother was diagnosed with cancer and he practiced there until they moved back to Alaska in 1979. They settled in Homer where Bill continued his law practice. Unfortunately, Ginny and Bill divorced in 1984. They had no children and Bill never remarried.
Bill excelled at the law but was never fond of its adversarial nature. He suspended his general practice in 1997 and joined with three friends to start Alaska Boats & Permits, a commercial fishing brokerage in Homer. Bill served an indispensable role, handling contracts and other legal aspects of the business until his passing.
Quiet as he was, Bill somehow came by the moniker “Wild Bill,” maybe because he lived to strap on a pack full of gear and explore Alaska’s back country. On foot, skis, or snowshoes Bill was up for a trip — especially off trail — alpine or arctic territory best of all. When he couldn’t be out there he was likely hatching plans for the next trek. It seems like some of us must have walked almost every drainage and ridge line on the northern Kenai Peninsula with him. When friends weren’t able to go, Bill would do it solo.
There were many other facets to Wild Bill’s life as well.
Bill played football (fullback and linebacker) in high school and was top player on the tennis team. He retained a love of sports and was an avid fan of many, especially basketball and football. And Bill supported youngsters who played sports. According to a friend’s daughter he attended every home basketball game and some away as she grew up, “even though we never won.”
Community was more than a word to Bill DeVries too. Over the years he contributed financially, served on boards, and provided pro bono legal advice to a variety of local nonprofit organizations. Some of these include South Peninsula Women’s Services (now Haven House), Kachemak Bay Conservation Society, Kachemak Heritage Land Trust and Cook Inletkeeper.
Remember, Bill was a behind the scenes kind of guy. He didn’t want any kind of a service or other commotion. As directed in his will, Bill was cremated and friends spread his ashes according to his wishes. If you feel like doing something in his memory you might consider a donation to one of the organizations he supported.
Wild Bill is survived by his brother, John DeVries of Manistee, Michigan; cousins, Anne Heaphy of Holland, Michigan, Jim DeVries of Brandenburg, Kentucky, Brigid DeVries of Lexington, Kentucky, Charles DeVries of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Bob Hislop of Annapolis, Maryland, Marcia Logie of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Jane Swainston of Colorado Springs, Colorado; former wife Ginny DeVries of Willits, California, and numerous Kachemak Bay area friends, neighbors, and colleagues.