It is with deep sorrow that we announce the passing of our cherished father and grandfather, Bill Clayton Bilbo, age 94, on October 30, 2022 at home in Seattle, WA. Dad was born on December 5, 1927 in Robert Lee, TX, to Alvin and Virginia (Williams) Bilbo. He attended elementary, high school, and junior college in Long Beach, playing tuba in both the high school and junior college marching bands. After junior college, he attended University of California at Berkeley for two years studying engineering before transferring to UC Davis in order to study agriculture. Dad graduated in 1952 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in engineering, with a specialty in agricultural engineering.
While attending college during World War II, Dad enlisted in the US Naval Reserves, eventually entering active service aboard the USS Rutland as a Fireman First Class. In 1947, also while in college, Dad married Janice Best, with whom he had two children, James Bilbo Johnson and Janell Bilbo Johnson Shaw. For a number of years, Dad worked for Vista de Llano Farms in Cantua Creek, CA, a small farming community near Fresno. He and Janice eventually divorced; and in 1958 Dad moved to Bakersfield, where he was a Kern County farm advisor for the University of California Agricultural Extension Service, specializing in agricultural engineering, farm management, and economics. In 1959, he wed Phyllis (Minnitte) Mosley, who had two children of her own, daughters Cheryl and Debra Mosley. In 1960 and 1962 respectively, sons Bill and John Bilbo were born.
After six years of advising Kern County farmers, Dad, who loved the outdoors, decided to farm for himself instead of advising farmers. In 1964, he and Mom (Phyllis) moved their family to a beautiful island of several hundred acres of open farmland surrounded by the Kings River near Centerville, CA. In 1967, they moved to Fresno, where Dad initially worked for California State College, Fresno developing new technologies for farm equipment while concurrently taking classes for a Master of Science Degree. In 1975, when the State of California’s Board of Registration began registering agricultural engineers as professional engineers, the Board honored Dad’s leadership and efforts in petitioning the Board to recognize agricultural engineering as a separate profession in California by issuing Dad its first certificate, Certificate Number 1. In 1976, the American Society of Agricultural Engineers, Pacific Region, selected Dad as their Engineer of the Year “for outstanding achievements in the field of agricultural engineering”; and in 1977-1978 he served as the Pacific Region’s chairperson.
Eventually Dad joined Resources International (RI), a firm providing agricultural consulting, implementation, and farm management services to countries around the world, as well as domestically. While working for RI, where he became company president, Dad worked in 44 countries, including 21 assignments for the World Bank. Additionally, as part of his work for RI, he was in charge of establishing one of the first wheat farms in Saudi Arabia (60,000 acres) and also in Jordan (40,000 acres), living in those countries during the years that it took to establish the farms, drilling water wells, importing irrigation equipment, planting the first crops, etc. Dad also qualified in Superior Court to serve as an expert witness in rural appraisal, farm management, and agricultural engineering. Mom was of great help to Dad throughout his work at RI since, while Dad had the technical expertise required for performing whatever field work, calculations, recommendations, etc., were required, Mom had the writing skills to edit Dad’s rough drafts until they became highly professional, and understandable, technical reports.
Dad and Mom worked at RI for many years, retiring sometime after 2007 to devote themselves entirely to enjoying the 80-acre ranch on the Fresno River near Coarsegold that they had lived on since 1985 and where Dad raised a small number of cattle. They were a remarkable couple for their entire 57-year marriage—until Mom’s very unexpected passing in 2017 at age 91—still living alone and doing all the work themselves to maintain their property and home and continuing to host all holiday family dinners.
Dad was a man who truly enjoyed the outdoors, hunting when he was young and later deep-sea fishing for three weeks every summer for many years with his brother Alvin “Jake” Bilbo and a small group of friends on the Red Rooster, a fishing vessel that traveled from San Diego to Baja California and back. In even later years, he enjoyed horse and mule packing to the high mountain lakes to fish with Jake and friends. Later still, he loved to camp closer to home every summer with Bill and John and John’s spouse, Anthony Zamora. Devoted to his children though he was, there was never any doubt that Mom was the most important person in Dad’s life from the moment he first met her until the day he died.
After Mom’s passing, we doubted that Dad would survive more than a few months without her before succumbing to loneliness and dying himself. He surprised us, though, living alone at the ranch until age and declining health, especially the multiple surgeries that resulted from the slow-growing gastrointestinal cancer that he had developed in 2018, required that he have assistance. In 2020, then, Dad moved to Seattle to live with John and Tony, both of whom provided Dad with selfless and loving care until his death. Tony was Dad’s primary caregiver, for which the rest of Dad’s family thanks him with boundless gratitude. Without John and Tony’s outstanding care, Dad would not have survived nearly as long as he did.
Dad’s loved ones who predeceased him include his parents Alvin and Virgie Bilbo; older brother Martin Bilbo, who died in infancy; younger brother Jake Bilbo and his wife, Jeanine; first wife Janice Best Johnson; second wife and forever love, Phyllis Bilbo; stepdaughter Debra Mosley; and sons-in-law Brian Ehmke and Robert Shaw.
Loved ones who survive him include children Carol Hamlin of Rochester, WA; James Johnson (and his wife, Cathy) of Lamoni, IA; Janell Shaw of Kansas City, MO; Bill Bilbo (and his wife, Lisa) of Santa Fe, NM; John Bilbo (and his spouse, Anthony Zamora) of Seattle, WA; and Cheryl Ehmke of Fresno, CA. Also surviving are grandchildren Christopher Bilbo (and his wife, Amy) of Clovis, CA; Karissa Bilbo of Fresno; Emily Bilbo of Coarsegold; Cory Krahl (and her husband, Kory) of Taos, NM; Christie Taylor (and her husband, Jeremie) of Saint James, MO; Kate Wilburn (and her husband, Andrew) of Kansas City, MO; Darren Hamlin of Tacoma, WA; Jason Hamlin (and his wife, Joey) of Lake Tapps, WA; Jared Hamlin of Robert’s Creek, BC, Canada; Ryan Hamlin of Portland, OR; Jon Hamlin of Randle, WA; and Brennan Hamlin of Roy, WA. Additional survivors include 21 great grandchildren, sister-in-law Angela (Minnitte) Hill of Fresno, and numerous nieces and nephews.
Graveside services will be held on Tuesday, November 15 at 10:00 a.m. at St. Peter’s Catholic Cemetery in Fresno.
Remembrances—marked “in memory of Bill Bilbo”—may be made to Poverello House, 412 F Street, Fresno, CA 93706.
The Poverello House
412 F. Street, Fresno CA 93706