Bill was born in Skagway, Alaska on October 20, 1930 as William Donald Dagush Dennis, a 100% blood Tlingit Alaska Native. His birth parents, Leo and Louise Dennis, became unable to care for him. He was adopted into the family of Alfred and Katherine Andrews of Skagway, and so became William Donald Andrews.
When Bill was around two years old, his adoptive mother Katherine passed away and Alfred was no longer able to care for Bill by himself. Bill was placed in the Haines Orphanage where he grew up struggling with hunger, hard work and occasionally, severe punishment. But he also experienced the kindness and encouragement of the orphanage’s administrator.
At age eleven, an aunt and uncle – Bert and Marion Dennis of Skagway – took him into their household of four boys and a girl, where he remained until he was a young adult.
From this very difficult start in life came an extraordinary man, who, through sheer determination, let nothing stop him in the pursuit of his dreams. Bill grew up working hard for his keep. “Willie,” as he was known to Alaska friends and family, was a hunter, fisherman, logger and railroad worker.
A superb athlete, he was a high school basketball star and long distance runner. He remained a runner throughout his life until the age of 70.
With a voice that strongly resembled Eddie Fisher, he was also an in-demand professional singer, traveling and performing in venues around Alaska, including the annual governor’s ball.
As a young man in Alaska, he survived a car crash off a cliff, a small plane crash, a boat explosion and botulism poisoning. All of this before the age of 30!
After moving to Seattle with only $20 in his pocket, he cobbled together several part-time jobs, obtained a degree in accounting and then a position with Seattle City Light, where he worked in finance for 40 years before retiring in 2001. At City Light, he faced a great deal of discrimination and outright hostility in the days prior to the Equal Opportunity Employment Act and Civil Rights legislation, but he stayed and persevered.
He will be remembered by coworkers as an excellent manager; honest, direct and a fighter for women’s rights and equal rights.
In addition to his professional career, Bill volunteered at Seattle’s juvenile detention center, working successfully with youth that were considered extremely difficult. He coached an adult women’s basketball team to victory in a regional championship.
He was very photogenic with a beautiful smile, and obtained modeling assignments in his spare time.
If Bill wanted to learn something, he taught himself – guitar, electronics, motorcycle riding and auto repair, among other things. Bill was a strong Christian and very active in the Broadview Community United Church of Christ in Seattle.
Bill was very proud of his Native heritage and worked to support it. He acted as a volunteer delegate for Sealaska Corporation, attending annual conferences in Alaska. He was a member of Tlingit & Haida of Washington and Alaska.
Bill never ran out of stories, and the storytelling and teaching abilities he derived from his culture were second to none.
His clan affiliations were Eagle and Raven. His Native name, Dteet-Ta-Nee, suited him perfectly. Though there is no exact English translation, Bill translated it as “the way you feel when you look out on the first spring day and see sunshine sparkling on the dew, and it makes you smile.” Ah yes – that smile!
From Bill’s first marriage, two beautiful daughters were born. From his second, a son, who died an accidental death in 2012. From his third, there were no children but a remaining lifetime of love and 36 ½ years with his wife, Marilyn.
In 2013, Bill was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. For his last two years of life, he lived at Goldenview Adult Family Home in Seattle, where he received incredibly kind, attentive and expert care. After a total of seven plus years battling the disease, Bill passed away peacefully on April 27, 2020 at the age of 89 ½.
Bill’s life motto, “I don’t worry about anything,” never changed. His easy going personality and beautiful smile never changed. His heart for his family and friends never changed. He was a good father, a perfect husband and a great, great man.
Bill is survived by his wife, Marilyn, his sister Kathy Lawrence (John), his two daughters, Tracey Howell (Tony) and Marlee Carlile (Terry), and four grandchildren: Samus Clark, Kimberlee Alseth (Jared), Timothy Clark and Floyd Clark.
In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made to Tlingit & Haida of Washington and Alaska, Broadview Community United Church of Christ or Goldenview Adult Family Home.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” – Philippians 4:6