Retired Major William “Bill” Hately Sr., 83, passed away at home amongst family and friends after a long battle with chronic illnesses.
He was born April 29, 1938, in Bethel, Alaska to Katherine (nee Thomas) Hately, a Yupik woman from Quinhagak, and Alexander Hately, a Scotsman who came to Alaska for the Gold Rush. He was the 3rd son and youngest of seven who grew up on the family farm where he helped care for the fur foxes and mink, and the Labrador Retrievers the family raised and sold.
It’s where he also learned to subsistence hunt and fish which he continued to enjoy throughout his life. He graduated from then Bethel Regional High School in 1956 – he was the only graduate that year, or as he liked to say, he was the Valedictorian.
While a youngster, he got his first look at an airplane flying overhead which would spark his lifelong love of aviation. He followed his dream of becoming a pilot by joining the Army National Guard and going to flight school, learning first single engine airplanes that were so vital to life in rural Alaska and working his way up through various large transport and commercial airplanes.
He was proficient in flying single engine land and sea aircraft, multi-engine land and sea, and helicopters. He received his Army Master Aviator Badge in 1978. He was also a certified check pilot for both the National Guard and commercial airplanes. After retiring from commercial aviation he continued to enjoy flying as a private pilot.
He remained active in the National Guard from May 5, 1955 until 1980 when he went into reserve status due to his extensive aviation experience. He officially retired in 1998 at the age of 60 with the rank of Major.
In 1963, he met his future wife Joan Rudser, a nurse who came to work at the hospital in Bethel. They married shortly after the Good Friday Earthquake of 1964. At the wedding reception, he was offered a job at Northern Consolidated Airlines which would eventually become part of Wien Airlines. He continued to fly for Wien rising from the ranks of bush pilot to one of the more senior captains until Wien folded in the 1980s.
The marriage however, happily lasted until his death – he and Joan enjoyed 57 years together; they were one month shy of 58th anniversary on April 3rd. They lived in Bethel until 1975, when they moved the family to Anchorage creating a home that was always open to family and friends.
Together they raised five kids – sons William (Bill) Jr., Charles, Jeffrey, Craig and daughter Mari – teaching them the various Alaska life skills of hunting, both subsistence and commercial fishing, construction and later (when they learned to drive), autobody repair. While they did not become pilots like him, he was still proud of their accomplishments in each of their chosen careers.
His career as a pilot allowed him to travel to many destinations throughout Alaska and the lower 48. He enjoyed meeting new people and the new experiences each city had to offer. He stopped counting after 20,000 total hours of flying – he figured he didn’t need to keep counting. In the entire time flying for the military, commercially, or as a private pilot, he never had an accident or incident. His keen understanding of the challenges of flying in the bush, an extensive knowledge of the geography especially the Y-K Delta region where he grew up, and an innate weather sense allowed him to always make it home safely.
When not working, he enjoyed traveling to visit numerous friends and extended family, and was a member of various organizations including the Alaska Airmen’s Association, OX-5 Aviation Pioneers, Lake Hood Flying Lions, and Quiet Birdmen Society. His fellow pilots and him would meet regularly for a Friday Night Safety Meeting. They would discuss all things aviation among other topics, passing along wisdom to the younger pilots and delighting the non-pilots with their stories.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Alex and Katie; siblings Bertha, Jack, Agnes, Chrissy, and Alex Jr; and son Jeffrey.
He is survived by wife Joan, sons Bill Jr. (Jennifer) of Anchorage, Charles (Julie) of Seattle, Craig (Leslie) of Anchorage, and daughter Mari of Anchorage; many grandchildren along with numerous nephews and nieces; and his last remaining sister Jean Walker of Seward.
In lieu of flowers, Bill requested that donations be made to the Yuut Elitnaurviat A&P School in Bethel to help train the future generations of aircraft mechanics. Donations can be made through bcsfoundation.org.
A Celebration of Life is scheduled for Friday April 29 at the Alaska Aviation Museum. All are welcome.