MISSOULA — William Lyford Sawyer, better known as Bill or sometimes Billy, passed away surrounded by family in his home on Dec. 11, 2018, at the age of 61. He was born on Sept. 22, 1957, in Norwich, Connecticut, and moved to his adopted home of Missoula in 1994 where he lived with his wife, Barbara Ruff Sawyer, two daughters, Ali and Kayla, and two pets he begrudgingly came to love, Frodo and Legolas “Rigsy.”
For someone who was always content to stay home, Bill’s life contained plenty of travel and adventure, spanning both American coasts, before he settled down in Missoula. Though his loved ones feel he was taken too soon, Bill lived a fast and full life and once noted, while reminiscing about his youth, “It's a wonder I made it this long.”
Growing up in Norwich, Bill’s first jobs were mowing lawns, shoveling snow, and delivering newspapers with his siblings. While attending the University of New Haven, Bill joined the U.S. Army Reserves, in which he served in a Military Police unit from 1978 to 1984. He graduated with his bachelor of science in criminal justice in 1980 before striking out for San Francisco in 1981. He spent time fishing around Haines, Alaska, in the fall of 1985 before moving to Seattle, where he worked at First Interstate Bank, earned his degree in accounting from Central Washington University — Lynnwood, and met his future wife, Barb.
Bill and Barb traveled from Seattle to Glacier National Park to get married on Aug. 22, 1992. Though they had planned to get married outside, the wedding was moved into Grouse Mountain Lodge when Glacier was hit with a late August snow.
Upon moving to Missoula, Bill passed his Certified Public Accountant exam (having even spent the morning of a camping trip studying for it), had two kids in 1995 and 1998, and earned his master of business administration from the University of Montana in 2000. Bill’s favorite Missoula job was at the Boone and Crockett Club, a nonprofit dedicated to wildlife conservation. He also worked at the Adventure Cycling Association, Missoula Housing Authority, and Garlington, Lohn & Robinson law firm.
Up to a few months before he passed, he worked as Director of Finance at the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation. For all his financial smarts and career accomplishments, Bill’s proudest legacy was his daughters, who will never forget what a dedicated and wonderful dad he was.
Bill was preceded in death by his parents Dr. James “David” Sawyer and Sally Rome, stepmom Chrissoula Phillips, sister Margaret “Peggy” Sawyer, brother George Tsakonas, nephew Joshua Sawyer, and brothers-in-law Dennis Mitchell and Don Bateson. He is survived by his wife, his daughters, and his siblings and siblings-in-law Bob and Sue Sawyer, Betsy Bateson, Margie Sawyer and Keith Adams, Alexis and Allen Kasden, Kathy and Steve Hetzel, Ann Mitchell, Susannah and Gene Griffin, Jim and Gail Sawyer, Theodore Tsakonas, Joan and Mark Barnes, Mike and Elizabeth Sawyer, Julie Ruff and Randy Seright, Jan Ruff-Strait and Dennis Strait, Steve Ruff, Mike Ruff, and Susanne and John Boudreaux, as well as 25 nieces and nephews and so many great-nieces, great-nephews, great-great-nieces, and great-great-nephews we’ve lost count. Bill loved visiting his extended family all over the United States and never missed an opportunity to do so.
Although Montanans are notoriously wary of outsiders such as East Coast Yankees, Bill earned his status as a true honorary Missoulian through his long-standing appreciation of the community and generosity toward Missoula organizations. In addition to the various Missoula nonprofits for which he worked, Bill was a member of the Rotary Club of Missoula and a devoted Catholic and member of Saint Francis Xavier Church. An avid cyclist, Bill biked the grueling Ride Around the Pioneers in One Day (RATPOD) several times to raise thousands of dollars for Camp Mak-A-Dream, which provides fun, free Montana experiences to kids with cancer, a cause important to Bill since well before his own diagnosis.
Bill loved the outdoors and was constantly active. He ran several marathons and half-marathons, including one ill-fated half in a pair of Vibram FiveFingers that he never heard the end of. He enjoyed hiking and mountaineering, which took him to such beautiful places as the summit of Mount Rainier and Pitamakan Pass in Glacier National Park. In addition to RATPOD, he also biked several Tour of the Swan River Valley (TOSRV) rides, which required countless daring training rides on the scenic but shoulder-less highways of western Montana. In a nod to childhood years spent going to the Pautipaug Country Club, Bill occasionally enjoyed golf and beating his daughters at tennis.
To counteract all this activity, Bill enjoyed Sawyer-sized scoops of ice cream, Starbucks drip coffee, dark beers, Reese’s, and good seafood, which he sought out whenever he was near the ocean. A fan of the Missoula brewery scene, Bill would love it if you were to toast a Great Burn Smoke Chaser Porter, Highlander Devil’s Hump Red Ale, or Bayern Amber in his honor. Bill also enjoyed crime novels, reading the news, and critiquing politicians. He was never materialistic, as evidenced by the Geo Prizm he drove for 16 years before giving it to his daughters and his habit of wearing socks with holes in them.
A private man, Bill explicitly noted that he found personal stories in obituaries to be “excessive,” so we better cut off here.
Bill’s funeral mass will be held on Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018, at 10:30 a.m. at Saint Francis Xavier Church. A celebration of Bill’s life will follow at the DoubleTree-Edgewater hotel.
For those wishing to support organizations important to Bill, memorial contributions in his honor may be made to the Joshua Sawyer Scholarship Fund at Saint Bernard School, 1593 Norwich-New London Turnpike, Uncasville, CT 06382 (https://saintbernardschool.org/donate), Camp Mak-A-Dream (campdream.org/), or The Poverello Center (thepoverellocenter.org/donate/).