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Bill Spears


Bill was a unique person. Not only was he my boss during the period from 1964 through 1974, we was my friend. How many can think of an employer as a friend?

When I began working for the firm of Prine-Toshach-Spears I really didnít know the difference between grout and mortar. Interestingly, when I started there was a person who was hired at the same time I was. During the first month of my employment I was in awe of what I perceived him to know. I never understood why I was the one who remained on the staff until sometime later. It was much later that I realized that the possible reason was that I never "bull**#t" my way along. That was one of Billís strong points. He believed in being an honest person.

I liked the structural aspect of architecture. I guess it was one of the reasons I fell under Billís wing. While my co-worker, Russ, had a great sense of design, and I later learned that Bill treated him as his "son" he never the less treated me in a special way. He became my "honesty" mentor.

Iíll never forget the first lesson he taught me. During one of our late night session where we had to "pull the drawings together" Bill related a story to me about the honor of being intrinsically honest. He related to me a story about the time he was "called on the carpet" for a perceived design problem.

When I began working for the firm of Prine.Toshach.Spears Inc. they had just finished the project of designing and overseeing the construction of the Dow Corning Corporation silicon production plant at Hemlock, Michigan. He related the story of the time when Dow Corning had called him and the contractor into a meeting about a problem at the facility. A part of the building had a canopy with a cantilevered roofóit was sagging. The meeting was to determine who was at fault.

Bill related that after the meeting he returned to his office and reviewed his design notes. After his review he wrote to the client, "I have reviewed my design notes and cannot find where I made a mistake in calculation for the design of the structural steel or foundations. Additionally, I personally inspected the construction progress of the building and cannot recall an occurrence when the contractor didnít fully comply with the construction documents. Therefore, I must have made the mistake although I am unable to determine what or where it is and therefore must accept the responsibility for the cost of correction."

This letter he sent to the client as well as the contractor. Three days later he received a phone call from the contractor stating, "Bill, you are the first architect or engineer who, as best as I can remember, has ever admitted to having made a mistake. Tell us what to do to make the correction and we will take care of it. The payment for it is your letter that is hanging framed on my wall."

Bill went on to say to me, "You see, when a person admits to making a mistake they are only admitting that they are human. If you treat a person honestly, they will treat you in kind." That was the first lesson I learned from Bill Spears and I never forgot it.

It was about eight years later when we were working on the Saginaw Civic Center. In the design of the trusses over the arena we failed to realize that a cross bracing between the truss would interfere with a door opening to the corner mechanical rooms in each corner of the arena. This wasnít a small mistake. Bill had to go to the City Manager with the cost change to correct the problem. (Approximately $20,000). After Bill returned I asked him how things went.

Bill said, "When Ed looked at the change he asked, "Whatís this all about?" I told him, I made a mistake and didnít see the conflict when we made the drawings. The contractor had to make a major modification in order to correct my mistake."

He said, "Ed looked at me for a moment and said, "Itís nice to hear that somebody screws up once in a while and is man enough to admit it." Again, Bill reinforced to me the importance of being honest with a client.

When Bill died I had the occasion to speak with one of my suppliers. He was saddened to hear of Billís death but he said something I will never forget. He said, "Bill was a nice honest man. If he made a mistake he went overboard to make sure that someone else didnít suffer from his error. He was a man who earned a lot of respect from many suppliers and contractors. There were not many like him."

In addition to learning about honesty from Bill I mostly remember him for his sense of humor. There was the occasion when we had a Christmas office party. It was in 1996. It was the first time I had ever consumed an "adult beverage" if you get my drift. Some of us "old timers" had already had a good time when we left the "drinking" portion of the party to eat at The Embers restaurant down the street. At the restaurant there was a mechanical Santa Claus. I donít recall exactly how, but Santa attained a place at our table.

When we left the restaurant to go to a bowling alley, on Bay Road across town, Santa managed to hitch a ride. We carried him into the facility and stood him alongside the table while we continued to celebrate.

The next morning Bill got a phone call from the Embers Restaurant. When he asked us where Santa was for some reason we werenít afraid to tell him that we left him at the bowling alley. Did Bill get all upset and threaten to fire us all? Not on your life. He just smiled and said, "Iíll take care of it." That was just the kind of person Bill was.

After he retired, and I moved on to work in the role of a contractor as an estimator. It didnít take long for me to realize that I never forgot the lessons Bill taught me. It was his teaching of treating people honestly that caused me to leave the employment of this contractor for another.

While at the first contractorís office I learned that some things never change. There was a person who really was able to "fake it." On the surface he was a very competent person. It didnít take me long to learn what kind of person he really was as I observed him treating other people. He didnít fit the Bill Spears profile I had learned to respect. The contractor I was working for had a policy of Ďcheatingí people under the guise of fairness. I couldnít handle the deception so I found a way to leave and work for someone who followed Bill's ethic sense although he never knew him.

It was during this time that Bill got sickócancer. I recall the three times he received the last ritesóyet he survived. While Bill didnít do everything right in his life I take comfort in knowing that the Man Upstairs allowed him to live and enjoy life an additional 25 years. When it became time for Bill to go home the Big Man didnít let Bill suffer. He welcomed him home quickly. He died in December of 1999 and left an image of an ideal of a man to fulfill.

Bill is a man I will never forget and neither will those of us who knew him.

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Last modified:    April 2013