William Joseph (Bill) Sassaman
December 24, 1942 – October 1, 2023
Bill was born in Easton, Pennsylvania, the first of four children. His parents, Carl and Marguerite Sassaman, were both teachers with wanderlust, and they moved the family to different parts of the US just about every year. By the time he graduated from high school, Bill had lived in 18 towns, from Pennsylvania to California, from Nebraska to New Mexico. I think it inspired a sense of adventure in him!
After graduating from the University of New Hampshire in 1969 with a degree in Forestry, he and his first wife, Virginia, along with their 4-year-old son, Scott, and infant daughter, Heather, headed for Alaska, where Bill planned to be a forester and bush pilot (he had his private pilot’s licence). On the way, they detoured to Nanaimo to visit a university friend, also a forester. That friend gave Bill the best piece of advice ever: “Why go to Alaska? Stay here. BC has everything you’re looking for!” Bill got a job with MacMillan Bloedel that day and was granted landed immigrant status the next day.
He worked for MacBlo for a year before the family moved to Argenta in southeastern BC, to teach and houseparent at the Argenta Friends School (Quakers). In 1971, Bill and Virginia separated and he returned to New Hampshire to earn a master’s degree in Forestry Mensuration. The family reunited briefly in NH before he became the single father of two. He enrolled 3-year-old Heather in the Newmarket (NH) Day Care Center, where he met me, the head teacher of the three-year-old class and single mother of 5-year-old Caitlyn. In 1973, Bill and I fell in love and soon formed a family with our three children.
Bill’s next educational venture was at Virginia Polytech, working on a doctorate in Forestry Mensuration. After a year, he knew it was time to forego the Ph.D. and return to Canada. We arrived at the Peace Arch Crossing on July 15, 1974. Bill worked again as a forester in Gold River and Tahsis before we went in search of our homesteading dream, which, as it turned out, we found in Argenta. We became Canadian citizens in 1978.
Bill, our teenagers, and I moved to Victoria in 1983. It was the first time Bill had lived in a city and he knew that he needed a way to get out of town. After decades of climbing mountains, skiing downhill and cross-country, and playing basketball, Bill discovered sailing! He had to convince me that moving onto a boat and sailing oceans was an excellent plan. It took a lot of convincing but he was persuasive. We joined Bluewater Cruising Association in 1986 and bought an offshore-capable 34’ ketch, Emrys. We moved aboard in 1987, to learn how to live in such a small space, pare down items that we didn’t need, and to build a cruising fund. From 1990 to 1993, we cruised the U.S. west coast, the Sea of Cortes, and then made long passages to French Polynesia, Hawaii, and back to BC. It was an adventure of a lifetime and I am so grateful that he was so persuasive!
Our post-cruise plan had been to sell the boat, buy a house, and get another dog. Instead, we agreed that we loved living in a small, mobile space and opted to remain liveaboards. We sold the ketch, bought a 52’ sloop on which we lived and ran charters along the BC coast, before buying our present boat, Alia, in 2002. It was also in 2002 that we rejoined BCA, after a hiatus of eight years.
Bill and I have lived aboard in Victoria, the Lower Mainland, and since 2012, in Cowichan Bay. It was during our 8-year on-and-off life at anchor in False Creek that Bill became passionately concerned about the rights of liveaboard boaters. Eventually that concern would lead him to form the BC Nautical Residents Association with other like-minded liveaboards at the Wharf Street Docks in Victoria’s Inner Harbour.
Over the course of his life, Bill was a forester, teacher, logger, wild fire fighter, backhoe operator, car salesman, charter captain, realtor, and small business owner. He enjoyed learning new skills in each profession or job. A pacifist, Bill was first an attender of the Argenta Friends Meeting and for the past twelve years, of the Cowichan Valley Friends Meeting.
In the final weeks of his “journey with cancer,” he liked to say that he had lived the best 80 years of his life “so far” and had no regrets. I know that I have no regrets about our 50 years together of love, friendship, and adventure.
Our family will hold a celebration of life for Bill in the late spring or early summer of 2024.