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Friday, April 27 News

Bill Meyer, the volunteer's volunteer of Westport, dies at 85

William "Bill" F. Meyer III, whose enthusiasm for Westport community projects and civic causes seemed to have no bounds -- once describing himself as a full-time volunteer -- died Saturday after more than a year-long bout with cancer. He was 85.

Meyer was a familiar presence -- and contributor -- to community projects and events over the decades.

In an interview with the Westport News, Meyer in 2011 called volunteering his "main" hobby or interest. "I am on the boards of eight nonprofit entities in Westport," he said at the time, and then went on to catalogue a few of those organizations that had his support:

"On the Representative Town Meeting 17 years and counting. Also Sunrise Rotary Club; First Night; Y's Men, Friends of the Westport Center for Senior Activities, Westport Community Theater, Westport chapter of the American Association for Retired Persons; Westport Little League; umpire of Little League games at Bill Meyer Field named after me on North Compo Road, Meals on Wheels; mentoring a 14-year-old boy from the age of 5 on board of Isiah House in Bridgeport that hosts parolees for six months as they "transition" into life outside prison," Meyer said.

And that was far from a complete list of the groups that Meyer supported over the years.

First Selectman Jim Marpe, commenting on Meyer's death, acknowledged his unique role in the community, saying in a statement, "The passing of Bill Meyer has left a hole in our community that will never be filled. His enthusiasm for his town of Westport and for every Westport organization to which he belonged was unmatched and infectious."

Meyer, according to Marpe, "never tired of selling Westport and all the things that make it a special place. But he always said that selling a great product is easy.

"For us, Bill was the one who made Westport special," the first selectman said.

In fact, professionally, Meyer had been a national sales manager for several companies. One of them, he told the Westport New, was in Browning, Mont., where he said he "managed 800 workers on an Indian reservation. We manufactured and sold pens and pencils The tribe adopted me, giving me the Indian name Black Feet, after their chief."

Besides Meyer's devotion to the community and diverse charities, he also was a passionate advocate for state legislation that would legalize physician-assisted suicide.

The reason behind his vocal support for that controversial cause, he told the Westport News, was personal: "I helped my 88-year-old, cancer-ridden father take his life. I was arrested for assisting in my father's suicide." He was charged by police with second-degree manslaughter, but was later granted accelerated rehabilitation, a special form of probation.

He continued to advocate for that cause as recently as last year, testifying before a General Assembly committee considering such legislation that his terminally father "was 88 years old and had five cancer operations. He said, `I want you to help me take a life.' "

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Meyer, who recounted the story of his father's death on "60 Minutes" and other news programs, told the legislative committee, "My father's doctor said, `You have six months to live.' On July 23, 1991, I put a plastic bag over my father's head and the next day the police came and declared it a suicide."

Meyer, who held his father's hand while he died, said that his father loved life, but after numerous operations did not want to face a slow, painful death. He told of his father's civic involvement in West Hartford and how active and happy he had been.

"I think it's for a few people. It's a choice issue," Meyer told the committee. "My father's doctor said it's not for everyone. I have just as much respect for people who do not want to do this."

Meyer's devotion to community causes was no less ardent, Marpe said. "Bill left his high-energy imprint on everything he was a part of."

"As our most recent longest serving RTM member, Bill brought a new meaning to civic duty." Marpe said. "He loved to campaign at the train stations and in front of the area supermarkets on behalf of the candidates he supported -- and they came from both sides of the political aisle.

Meyer also deserves great credit, Marpe said as "the creative force behind our town's girls softball program. He paved the way for gender equality in our town's sports programs long before it became the accepted norm. The town's softball diamond on North Compo is Bill Meyer Field. For the last 25 years he has been umpiring games and is well known to all of the girls and their families who have played softball over that period."

The Westport CT Softball organization acknowledged Meyer's pivotal role in the group's growth, posting a tribute to him on its website: "Rest In Peace William F. `Bill' Meyer III. With our deepest love for our founder and guiding light. Thank you for all you have given our girls."

Marpe said Meyer's contributions to the community were neither fleeting or random, but "long and inspiring ... He was selfless -- always thinking of others and how he could provide an opportunity for others to become involved as he had. His love for Westport shone throughout. His legacy will surely endure but, for now, he has left us with aching hearts and fond memories of raucous enthusiasm enveloped by gentle dedication and kindness. He will be sorely missed."

Meyer is survived by his wife Carolyn and two children.