Navy seaman, train engineer, inventor, father. Born on April 4, 1926, in Sutherland, Sask.; died on Oct. 22, 2016, in Saskatoon, of natural causes, aged 90.
Bill Rossmo grew up during the Depression in Sutherland, Sask. (now part of Saskatoon), one of five children of Ukrainian-speaking pioneers from Austria-Hungary. His specific heritage was a bit confusing because both world wars had scrambled the borders of Eastern Europe; depending on their date, official documents listed his father’s nationality as Austrian, Polish or Russian. To locals in Sutherland, however, they were all “bohunks,” and Bill and his brothers had to grow up tough.
Immigrants in Prairie railway towns in the 1930s didn’t own much. A tube of toothpaste was a treasured Christmas present, and the family made their own toys. One of their creations was a “Monopoly set” with money printed using carved potatoes. But Bill was positive in times of hardship, often recalling the saying, “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.”
Despite good grades, Bill quit high school to shovel coal as a fireman for the Canadian Pacific Railway. In 1944, he joined the Royal Canadian Navy and served as an able seaman on HMCS Carlplace. A crack shot, he became the captain of the starboard bridge anti-aircraft gun and took part in the Battle of the Atlantic, which continued to the very end. Just before Germany’s surrender, 20 nautical miles from Halifax, a U-boat launched a torpedo at the ship, narrowly missing the bow. The Carlplace’s depth charges chased away the submarine away and Bill was one of the lucky veterans who came back home.
After war’s end, he rejoined the CPR and was promoted to train engineer, but resigned in 1957 to start a number of business ventures. Some were based on his own inventions, including a gate latch that self-adjusted for sagging fence gates, an artificial hive for transporting leafcutter bee larvae, and a door hinge that could be easily calibrated to align a door in its frame. Bill was always good at building things and he wanted to find solutions to problems to make life better. He was granted 11 patents – some successful, a couple somewhat wacky (including a reflexology fingernail stimulator). While Bill was never rich, he was wealthy when it came to the important things in life.
His major passion was football – he was an ardent Saskatchewan Roughriders fan. In the days before multichannel cable television, he erected a giant antenna on his roof in the hope of receiving a distant TV station broadcasting extra CFL games. The signal was poor and the blurry football usually couldn’t be distinguished from the snowy background, but such minor technical problems didn’t dim his enthusiasm. He’d watch every game the antenna captured while listening to it on the radio (because you really couldn’t see what was happening).
Bill was adventurous, funny, and often mischievous. He liked his beer and enjoyed a good party with the old Sutherland gang. While he never finished high school, he respected education. He and his wife, Eunice, taught their four children (Kim, Kerry, Denise and Marla) the importance of responsibility, tolerance, and doing good. They expected nothing more from them than to be happy.
Of his childhood, he once said, “We never had much, but we always had enough.” Bill made sure his family had more than enough of what mattered. His lessons and his love live on.
Kim Rossmo is Bill’s son.Report Typo/Error
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