September 4, 1935 to May 24, 2007

by Katharine Blossom Lowrie

He drew so many, especially “the chicks”

Stark & GoobersAn unparalleled mentor and friend, Frederick William Stark, Jr. (“Willie” or “Bill” to most) departed this earth on May 24, 2007—in his single-engine Diamond Star, no doubt—to see “what life is like on Jupiter and Mars.” He was 72. Legendary for his verbal shorthand, tireless research and racy wit, Bill enjoyed no greater honor than to serve those seeking and maintaining the sobriety he prized for 25 years. Whether offering encouragement, a flight to some distant meeting, or the “even-keel” approach that drew so many (especially “the chicks,” said one), he availed himself to others with utter confidence and enthusiasm 24/7. “He would drop anything if you needed him,” said longtime pal Christine Peterson, one of hundreds of friends who packed an airplane hangar at Palomar Airport in Carlsbad by the Sea in early June.

Two things came easily: flying and entrepreneurship

The oldest of three children, Bill Stark was born September 4, 1935 in Glendale, California to Violet and Frederick William Stark Sr., a Nabisco cracker salesman. He graduated in 1957 with a Bachelor of Science degree from USC, a proud Trojan and member of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity. Two things came easily: flying and entrepreneurship. Honing his piloting skills as an officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve, Bill became a partner in his own electronics company before most of his fraternity brothers had focused on a career. A resident of Carlsbad for the past ten years, he lived in Palos Verdes Estates before moving to North San Diego County in 1972. Electronics and aviation sales provided a livelihood, but flying was his passion. He was hoping to fly above Route 66 at 500 ft. with his favorite copilot, Brenda Stearns, when a recurrence of esophageal cancer halted his plans.

“He had polished skill and never stopped learning”

“Bill was a great mentor, and we enjoyed each other’s enthusiasm,” said Stearns, who spoke at the memorial and had arranged for the use of the hangar. “His example made me a better pilot. He had polished skill and never stopped learning. I do wish a brain was like a computer hard drive and could be downloaded and backed up for future access. He knew so much.”

Jennifer Stark, Bill’s only child, recalled how her father could identify airplanes at ridiculous altitudes. “He’d look up in the sky and point to a pinprick and say, ‘That’s a twin-engine Cessna,’ and then rattle off a bunch of numbers.” Her onlyF.W. Stark regret is that her dad became ill before he was able to take her up in his new Diamond Star. “Brenda has promised to take me for a ride,” Jennifer said, gazing out at the gleaming white airplane that held a place of honor within view of the guests during the memorial.

In his final months, equipped with a feeding tube and prevented from speaking by a tracheotomy, Bill never lost his sense of humor, his daughter said. Communicating with him could be difficult, however. “His handwriting was totally illegible, and he got very frustrated when we couldn’t read his lips.” Her dad’s legendary verbal shortcuts didn’t help. “How’s my BP (blood pressure)?” he would scribble. “What’s your ETA (estimated time of arrival)?” he would query friends via his Blackberry. “What’s for din-din (dinner)?” he would tease, knowing every meal consisted of the same innocuous beige liquid injected into his feeding tube.

Unless I get a better offer

Cancer wasn’t fun, said buddy Tim Steinbis, a painting contractor who got to know Bill when he painted his condo. “But I never heard him complain, not once.” And he packed a dry wit. To get to his daily radiation appointments, Bill would often text-message Steinbis for a ride, adding: “Unless I get a better offer,” meaning one of his many girlfriends. “After Bill died a mutual friend called to say that another friend, a woman, had died the same day.” When Steinbis remarked on the coincidence, the friend said he didn’t think it was. “You know Bill,” the friend said. “He always had to have a chick with him wherever he went.”

Bill’s daughter marveled at her father’s positive attitude and how easily he discussed end-of-life matters, including the disposal of his remains. “He wanted his body donated to science.” In light of his deteriorating health, the endless medical appointments, Jennifer found it amusing that her dad’s favorite TV show was House. “Dad loved it. The grouchy doctor, all the exotic diseases. He got me totally hooked.”

Bill’s appetite for information—no matter how technical—was limitless, his daughter said. Vitally interested in every detail of his treatment, he researched medications, queried his suppliers and understood every aspect of the equipment (suction and feeding pumps, humidifiers, IT phone, medical alert system, etc.) that overwhelmed his condo. He also listened to and revered his doctors, his daughter said, especially surgeon Marc Kramer. Hospice caregivers were in awe. Said Stacey Drago, his hospice nurse: “I’ve never had a patient who was so in tune with what was going on, so in control.” Barbara Weeks, his social worker, agreed. “He made all the decisions, right to the end.”

Two cats and three ex-wives

Along with the coterie of treasured friends who saw him through those final days, Bill is survived by his daughter, Jennifer Stark of Torrance, and two adored grandchildren, Jake, 10, and Jordan, 8. A sister, Linda Stark of Oregon, and a brother, Robert Stark of Colorado, also survive him, plus two cats and three ex-wives, Joan, Rebecca and Katharine, his first wife, who—along with their daughter Jennifer—helped care for Bill at the end.

Happy flight among those stars, Willie! (KBL)