January 25, 1929 - October 2, 2014
Bill Chamberlin embraced Blue Skies on Thursday, October 2, with his wife of over 62 years, Amy Chamberlin, by his side. Father to three, brother to six, grandfather to three, and great-grandfather to three more, Bill lived a full and storied life. A natural entertainer, pilot, jazz musician and gregarious personality, Bill was first and foremost a family man. His effervescent personality, corny jokes, and epic sweet tooth will be sorely missed by his loved ones.
While his story came to a close in Lewisville, Texas, his life began in Unadilla, New York, as one of seven children in a family that genuinely loved music. His mother played piano at the silent movie theater, while his dad directed the town band. Though Bill started on piano, he developed his love affair with tenor saxophone and clarinet by age 11 and played with brothers Dale (on piano and trumpet) and Howard (on bass). Later in life, this band of brothers was the center of many family gatherings and backyard square dances.
Bill also had a passion for flying. While his older brother, Roger, flew up and down the east coast hunting for subs during WWII, Bill passed an aircraft observer program and became a “spotter,” watching for enemy aircraft. On weekends in his teen years, he rode his bike to the Sidney airport and hung around for plane rides and flying lessons. He celebrated his 16th birthday by receiving his pilot’s certificate.
After graduating high school in 1947, Bill attended a technical school for mechanical engineering in Binghamton, NY and landed a job at Scintilla in Sidney, NY. But his passion kept him playing his horns on weekends at the Long River Inn, and then finally going on to Ithaca College to study music. Around that time he met Amy, a lovely school teacher and artist, and they married in 1952.
Uncle Sam pulled his draft card and after only two weeks in uniform, the Army gave him a pass to come home for his saxophone. His bride joined him at Fort Dix, NJ, where he played his horns in the military band for both concerts and television shows, including the live national ABC program “Army Band” hosted by actress Arlene Francis.
Using his GI Benefits, he followed his heart and attended flight school in Florida to get a commercial pilot’s license with an instrument rating. This began a fulfilling 28-year career in aviation, starting as an air taxi pilot back in NJ. He was soon hired by Harold Geneen, President of AT&T, to be co-pilot for their new corporate Gruman Gulfstream, then later as co-pilot for Southern Railroad’s Gulfstream out of Washington, D.C. Bill had the best of both worlds when he took his horns to the company’s Florida hunting lodge to entertain the VIP’s on business trips!
One night a seizure ended his beloved flight career. Not one to give up, Bill trained to become a radio announcer and spent the next few years at a late night position for an easy listening station in the Washington area. During all phases of his life, Bill was able to be there for his parents as well as his three daughters, with their own diverse activities and interests. After both of his parents passed, Bill and Amy made the move to Texas in 1990, to be near their eldest daughter and grandchildren.
In his 24 years in the Dallas area, Bill made many dear friends and “music family” and played lots of great jazz music, right up until his last years. This kept him active and able during most of the 18 years he lived with Parkinson’s. He played sax and clarinet, sang and emceed both the 12-piece Kings of Swing at the Plano Senior center for their weekly gig for over 12 years, and the Blue Diamond Trio for nursing home shows, private parties and events several times a month. Bill had also been part of the Plano Community Band and The Survivors, a Dixieland band. He loved to sing Karaoke at his daughter’s parties, and had his own fan club at Jack Astor’s. One of his proudest accomplishments was recording a jazz CD with his talented jazz musician brother, Dale Chamberlin, out in Colorado, entitled “Two Brothers.” The CD was later included as a fundraising project for The Parkinson’s Voice Project run by Samantha Ellandry to help people living with Parkinson’s discover more vocal power. The act of singing was the best medicine as it kept Bill’s voice strong and he managed to avoid swallowing problems and prolong his music career. Bill was certain that someday he was going to make a “comeback” once they found a cure for Parkinson’s, and he was working on a 90-minute one-man show. We would have loved to have seen that happen for him, but the collection of performances over the years sure does result in quite the astounding solo!
Most important to Bill was his family. He longed for his roots of upstate New York, where many a family reunion brought the generations together. Amy, his constant and devoted wife, brought him much comfort and was there for him always. He was proud of his three girls, and was magical with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who daily provided he and Amy with hugs, sweetness and laughter. His love of music has been a legacy already passed to his children, grand children and great grandsons! Always up for a party or milk shake date, Bill was one-of-a-kind and loved by all, with a tender heart and sweet disposition. His passion and resilience taught others to live fully, laugh heartily, and never give up hope ~ be it blue or stormy skies. When you look up to the night sky and see a distant blinking star, it just may be the eternal mischievous twinkling in his eyes.
Bill is survived by his wife Amy Chamberlin, his daughters Sandra McKenzie (Gary McKenzie), Lora Chamberlin, Debra Chamberlin-Wynn (Robert Wynn); his grandchildren James McKenzie (Dawn McKenzie), Laura McMurray (Clay McMurray), Cianna Wynn; great-grandchildren Ben and Henry McKenzie and Cooper McMurray; and his oldest and youngest siblings, Mary Prentice and Howard Chamberlin; as well as a number of beloved nieces and nephews.
“Bill was the first adult that ever talked to me with respect and kindness when I was a kid.”
“He was my soccer coach, and told me on the side line that where there is a will…I want in!”
“I never wanted to miss Sandy’s karaoke parties or the Huffman holiday parties knowing Bill’s ’Frank Sinatra’s voice’ and sax would be there!”
“Grandpa loved going to Jack Astors and singing karaoke with my friends and I. He’d pretend he never went there, but his scam was up when the staff and strangers started requesting him to sing!”
In lieu of flowers, if you would like to make a contribution in Bill’s memory, please send to The Parkinson Voice Project. The Voice Project helps those with Parkinson’s Disease regain and maintain their speech and swallowing abilities.
The Parkinson Voice Project
646 North Coit Road
Richardson, Texas 75080
There will be a “Celebration Party/Tribute” in honor of Bill Chamberlin at the home of Jim and Toni Degman on Saturday, October 18th from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. At 5:30 we will share “Bill” stories and prayer.
Enjoy Bill’s favorite cookies and snacks, and music by the “Blue Diamond Trio.” It would be an honor for Bill and his family if you brought along your instrument to join in the jam session!
Jim and Toni Degman
1032 Sunswept Terrace
God Gave you the gift of music
And left it up to you
How you chose to use it
And you answered true
You very willingly share it
And many are inspired
You’ve made it a practice
To never seem to tire
Of making people happy
With your musical ability
Both with your many friends
And your own dear family
You’ve given us memories
Which we have in store
Thank you brother Bill
We hope to hear some more!
Gene Faires – September 2014
Arrangements are under the
ARIA Cremation Service and Funeral Home
19310 Preston Road
Dallas, Texas 75252