How to describe Bill Rose? He was truly a Renaissance Man, no other expression even comes close to fitting him: a man who could write poetry and enjoyed reading it out loud to his family and friends; a man who attempted and did conquer the world from flying airplanes and helicopters, to winning sailboat races, to traveling to all parts of the globe and making friends everywhere. He was a Marine who could be tough when needed, but was caring with those he befriended. Few people knew that Bill was adopted as a child and I always believed that, as a result, Bill was driven to prove himself beyond all normal standards. For those who are curious, know that, even though Bill was adopted, he still was actually a Rose and was truly Scottish. You will have to read his book if you want to know more. Bill did make sure that the Marco Island Library had plenty of copies.
Bill took over his father’s failing meat packing business in Chicago and used his talents as a mechanical engineer to rebuild the equipment, then personally took to the road and air to build a market for the company’s meat products. Few had a repertoire of jokes like Bill, and fewer still could sell not only himself but their products like he could; everyone took an instant liking to him. Ask yourself how rare it is to find someone who is a “People Person” but also an engineer who can analyze a financial statement while suggesting ways to improve profitability? Who could be friends with the likes of the Chairmen of Bacardi Rum, Barnett Banks, and Piper Aircraft and also be friends with so many ordinary people?
His energy was unreal, always active, always on the go, wearing many of us down with his enthusiasm. Bill could be found almost anywhere in the world. Once years ago, Bonnie and I were on the Rosie O’Shea for the Island Christmas Boat Parade and got a call from Bill, who was on a ship in the South China Sea, just checking in to see how we were enjoying the Boat Parade! And this was long before cell phones.
Bill came to Marco in 1956 for the first time. He did not like to brag about when he first arrived on the Island, but he would smile at those who boasted about arriving here decades later. His generosity will live on with this Island forever, not only with his large financial contributions to the Marco Library and Marco Historical Museum, but just as importantly, in the memories of those who were privileged to have known him. It is not an exaggeration to say that many have told and retold Bill Rose stories he became, and is, a legend. Yet, despite all of that, he remained modest and comfortable with himself.
Family was very important to Bill. He had two sons and a daughter, and had nine grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. When he wrote his autobiography, he named his book. “Tell me a story Grandpa.” And, of course, there is his beloved Myrt. Bonnie and I will always remember Myrt, seeing her standing on the top of the wing of a bi-plane flying down the center of the Marco River and then doing a full loop and dives at over 160 mph, while those of us who watched below were horrified! In the classic line, Bill jokingly said to her, “How are you going to top that, Myrt, ride out on an elephant naked?” Then, five years later for Bill’s 75th birthday Myrt hired a circus and triumphantly rode in on an elephant wearing a flesh colored body suit! For his 80th, they both rode a camel, and later that night Myrt was on stage in Bill’s Marine uniform singing and dancing!
Bill enjoyed telling me that he did not make his money in the meat packing business, but instead, used those earnings to invest in real estate. And, while others were out playing golf on weekends, Bill personally operated heavy equipment building lakes, roads and laying out subdivisions. No one I knew ever worked as hard or played as hard or lived life to the fullest as Bill Rose. He knew how to have a good time–and tell me, who had as many toys as Bill Rose? Over the years he owned 26 airplanes and 3 helicopters; a sailboat and motor boats including the Rambling Rose; a paddlewheel boat; his own marina; antique cars; motorcycles and horses; several very large restaurants including one on Marco; his own island in Michigan; a large lot on Keewaydin Island, and a hangar at the Air Wing South in Naples; his home on Marco, and a home in Barrington with its own hangar and an airstrip! And when he wasn’t playing, he was working. He could list 23 occupations he had over his lifetime. As I said, no one I have ever known ever worked as hard or played as hard or lived life to the fullest as Bill Rose.
I was in a business meeting in the early 1980’s when Bill described to everyone at the meeting that life is like swimming from Hawaii to California: most people just swim along, being knocked around by the waves and the tides, making some forward progress on their journey, but usually letting nature and life’s circumstances make many of their choices; while there are others, a few individuals who work very hard to get on top of a large wave, and ride that wave staying on course toward their goal. It takes constant effort to stay on top of a large wave, to stay alert and ride it all the way through the many storms of life. Bill worked very hard early on to catch a big wave, he stayed on top of it his entire life and Bill reached success by anyone’s standards.
Everyone here who knew him and loved him is privileged to have seen a superb illustration of a life well lived and to have had Bill Rose as a mentor and also as a friend.
Semper Fi, Bill!
Excerpts from the Eulogy given by Craig Woodward at the April 22, 2010 Service for Bill Rose.