Bill Bessire was sold on being community-minded
JANESVILLE — Bill Bessire knew nearly everyone in the community he called home in one way or another. He was knowledgeable and friendly enough to hold up a lively conversation with anyone. He had the rare talent of a natural born salesman who refused to walk away without a deal.
Charles W. “Bill” Bessire died June 23 at home at the age of 89. Those who knew him best remember a father, grandfather, mentor and active community member with boundless energy, respect for everyone he met and undeniable charisma.
By all accounts, Bessire lived a full life. He had two successful careers: working in radio advertising sales for 43 years and then at Blackhawk Credit Union. As the vice president of radio operations for Bliss Communications, he was known both for his exceptional sales record and for his personable, upbeat way of doing business. He was famously able to turn cold sales pitches into new business relationships while walking up and down the exhibition booths at the Walworth County Fair.
He got his start with WCLO after returning from fighting in the Pacific Islands in World War II. Although he spent years in the heat of the conflict and was decorated with military honors, Sydney “Skip” Bliss, CEO of Bliss Communications, said his mentor only reflected on the friends he made during the war, a testament to his positive nature. He showed Bliss the ropes early in his career, and, in turn, Bessire came to regard him as another member of the family.
After Bessire was hired, Sydney Bliss, Skip's father, asked if his aging car would hold up for long drives through the countryside on sales calls. When Bessire expressed doubt about the state of the tires, Sydney bought him a new set from the local Sears store to get him on the road. It was an act of generosity that Bessire never forgot and became a sentimental story he recounted often.
Bessire had a talent for sizing up clients and judging a situation to know whether a punch line or a straight face would make the sale. But he was not the kind of salesman to go for “quick kill” deals, instead remaining committed to selling only products he believed in and that would help the client's business aspirations.
“He was one of those truly exceptional ones that are one in a million,” Skip Bliss said. “You just have to get out of their way and let them work.”
A dedicated family man, Bessire was immensely proud of his two sons, William and Steven, and his seven grandchildren. His wife preceded him in death.
His son William said his father was a “man's man” who took his sons hunting and fishing along the Rock River. Bessire was also a natural athlete who was good at every new activity he picked up—from bowling and table tennis to pool and golf. Until he was diagnosed with late stage lung cancer, he was the picture of health and took pride in maintaining an active lifestyle.
Over the years, William came to regard his father as his best friend.
“He was the most confident person I've ever known,” he said. “I am lucky to be his son.”
Never one to be idle for long, Bessire was always on the move, often waking up around 2 a.m. to write down ideas for slogans because he was able to do some of his best thinking in the middle of the night.
Jeff Bessire, Bessire's grandson, said the lessons he learned from his grandfather would serve as a model for teaching his own children the value of a firm handshake, a good first impression and treating people with respect.
Bessire also took great pleasure in giving back to his community, and he did so with his involvement in an array of Janesville service organizations. He reached the top leadership position in nearly every service group he joined: Elks Club, Noon Rotary and Golden Ks, along with countless other committees and boards. Bessire was also an active member of St. John Vianney Catholic Church.
His dedication to helping his neighbors through service and a kind word did not wane even late in life.
“He just made so many people happy … He thoroughly enjoyed people,” son William said. “What a life he had.”