So to hear that he had passed was, as I said, both a shock and very sad news to me. For whatever reason, I thought I would do my part to honor Bill by putting up some of his stories about John Wayne. (As many of you know, Bill was John Wayne’s pilot for several years). I went to his websites (he had two of them up at the time of his passing), and discovered that both had been taken down! Of the two websites, one was a forum based site where members could visit and talk about John Wayne, and Bill could share his many stories. Although I did not do much visiting there, I did enjoy going and reading Bill’s stories. Bill’s other website contained a lot of stories and photos of and about John Wayne and his 26 Bar Ranch. Unfortunately, as I said, both websites were gone. Fortunately, however, my “Big Brother” and best friend, Jess, had the foresight a few years ago to make a copy of Bill’s “Duke Stories” website, and put everything on a data CD. And I was lucky enough to get a copy of that CD. From it I have been able to gather all of Bill’s stories and photos, and I will be presenting them all here on The New Frontier website, on this page which I am dedicating to Bill. I’ll miss him, and I know many others will as well. He touched a lot of lives, and many of us considered him to be our friend. I hope I can do him justice here.
In the way of a “disclaimer” of sorts, I will say that I tried to contact Bill’s son to see if he had any objection to this project, but I never did hear back from him. It has been several months now since I tried to contact him through his Facebook page, so I decided to go ahead and proceed with this project. I would like to start it off by re-posting “Chester’s” JWMB post: “In Memory of Chili Bill.”
In Memory of Chili Bill
It is with sadness that I report the passing of William T Brooks III, known to most of us here on the JWMB as "Chili Bill", on February 16, 2013. It appears that he died at the 26 Bar Ranch. The obituary I found was woefully small, considering the very rich life Bill led.
I had a report in March of his death, but have had trouble confirming it, and didn't want to announce it here without that confirmation.
I had tried calling Bill in early March, just to check in, and his number was disconnected, which was my first clue that something must have happened. Then I saw a note on a FB friend's wall, a woman from Germany who had visited Bill at the 26 Bar Ranch. She had heard the news from a grandson, but other than the fact that Bill had died, there were no other details. Following that, the first thing I did was to search the internet for an obituary. I searched high and low and could find nothing, which was very surprising.
My very first contact with Bill, back in 2004, was through his son. I was unable to make that connection again (couldn't find a phone number, though I called more than one Brooks in the Phoenix area in an attempt to get information). I was unsuccessful in every direction, and again, wanted some confirmation before sharing here.
Recently, I got a PM from one of our members here, asking about Chili Bill. I told him what little I knew, but decided to try another search for an obituary, which I did find (linked above). That obit wasn't posted until the end of April, and I have to admit being pretty busy in the interim between March and now, and I haven't been dogging the Internet every day looking for it. According to the other member, with whom I was exchanging PMs, there was also an 'announcement' on the "John Wayne & His 26 Bar Hereford Ranch in Eagar AZ" Facebook page on May 17th. In March, when I look on any FB pages associated with Chili Bill, all I could find were his most 'recent' posts from January, and nothing more. Of course, thinking he had passed, I didn't go back to those pages again. Thanks to our astute member for pointing that out.
So . . . now that I have those scanty details out of the way, I'd like to share a little of Bill's history here on the JWMB.
Back in 2004, there was a post on our message board, in the Trading Post, from a guy named William T Brooks, wanting to sell a pistol and gun belt that had belonged to John Wayne. I found a phone number for someone by that name in Arizona, and called. It turned out Bill's son (William T Brooks IV) had made the post for his dad. I got Chili Bill's phone number, to find out more about the pistol and gun belt. I learned he had served as an extra in several movies in the 40's, including The Angel and the Badman! Bill had some great stories to tell about John Wayne, and I encouraged him to share them here, with other Duke fans. At the time, he was still mourning the loss of his life's love, his wife Martha, and was ready to just get rid of his stuff and join her. Joining this message board gave him a new lease on life - he really enjoyed sharing his stories! Then he got involved in the 26 Bar Ranch and continued sharing about Duke and his life.
In between being a teen-aged extra in movies and eventually living at the 26 Bar Ranch, William Brooks had an amazingly full life, with many experiences. Among them were being in Boy Scouts and having Barry Goldwater as his Scoutmaster, owning a business (actually, more than one in his lifetime) that eventually led him to reconnecting with John Wayne many years after being an extra in one of his movies, earning a black belt in karate, having a cooking show on local Arizona TV, flying a B52 in the war, being an instructor for NASA, . . . more than I can remember!
He and his wife Martha had children (at least one son and one daughter, but I think there were more) and grandchildren, and possibly great-grandchildren. Bill lived alone at the 26 Bar, and I do not know any of the details of his death, except that he did die. He died in a place that he loved, surrounded by his many items of Duke memorabilia. He was able to give many Duke fans, from around the world, a tour of the ranch and share his stories (it was a privilege to be a part of that back in 2007). He will be sorely missed!
May William T "Chili Bill" Brooks rest in peace!
(signed) Chester and Mrs. C