Bill Bishop, known all across Edgartown as the One Job at a Time housebuilder, contractor, craftsman and caretaker, died March 30 at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital after a long illness. He was 57 and was the husband of Donna Bishop, a teacher of special needs students at the high school, and the father of Will and Jimmy, both police officers in Edgartown.
Mr. Bishop’s life was one of singular purposes, both personal and professional, and he went after each with a sense of mission, history and good humor, succeeding at nearly everything he set out to do.
He knew he wanted to marry Donna the first time he saw her at a party given by college friends in the 1980s, and in 1985 he finally persuaded her to take him on. The couple honeymooned in Edgartown, decided immediately that they wanted to move here and did.
His company, One Job at a Time, exemplified the way he worked and who he was. Noticing that some Vineyard contractors and tradesmen took on more tasks than they could manage and sometimes left customers hanging with unfinished jobs, Mr. Bishop, working mostly alone, made it a rule to see one project all the way through before taking on another. This was true whether the task was repairing a screen door or building a house. Customers next on his list knew that after Mr. Bishop finished the job he was working on, he would be with them the next day — or a year down the road, depending on its scope. His clients lived patiently with the uncertainty of it all, because they knew that when their turn came he would be with them from start to finish too.
His goatee and brush cut were almost pure white, his manner unfailingly gentle and patient, and his love of work was such that he kept at it through pain and decreasing strength almost to the end. “He was the hardest working man I ever knew,” said his son Will. “He was working up to the last couple of weeks of his life — he still had a hammer in his hand.”
William Charles Bishop 3rd was born Jan. 26, 1960, in Danbury, Conn., the son of the late William (Sonny) Charles Bishop Jr. and Jean Owen Bishop of Edgartown. He graduated from the Henry Abbott Technical High School in Danbury, passionate about carpentry and woodworking from the age of five or six. Behind the family home was a professional cabinet shop, and as a young boy he watched how wood went in and beautiful pieces of furniture came out, along with impossible amounts of shavings and dust.
The die was cast, he told the Gazette four years ago.
He rose through a modern-day apprenticeship, beginning with John Skrensky, a contractor from Norwalk, Conn. He moved woodpiles, framed houses and worked on the insides of closets before he was allowed to touch the outsides because his mistakes wouldn’t be so evident. Villagers saw his van all over Edgartown, but in fact Mr. Bishop had no more than 20 clients or so, many of them going back 25 years and all of them friends.
He loved using Island relics and materials in his work and no job was too idiosyncratic. He built kitchen tables using lumber from the state forest and the door from an old Vineyard barn. He built a treehouse office for a book publisher off the West Tisbury Road, then taught her daughter, who was starting a farm on Chappaquiddick, how to pound nails so she could fix fences on her own. He told her she had to hammer a thousand of them into blocks of wood before she could consider herself competent — an apprenticeship she followed as faithfully as he once had.
“Bill’s greatest accomplishment was as a devoted husband and father,” Will Bishop wrote this week. “Donna was truly the love of his life. His passion for Donna never faded as the years passed; rather it grew and he was certainly a hopeless romantic. He often left love notes, bought flowers for no occasion, packed lunches (always with a note and a special treat). Their relationship was nothing short of what love should be. He also took great pride in the success of his children. Their success was his success as a father. He pushed his boys to be more and to do more than he ever could. Often it was a thankless job but one he would never quit. While his life was cut short, he accomplished more as a devoted husband and father than he could ever imagine.”
Mr. Bishop also loved to fish aboard his 28-foot Sisu powerboat Elizabeth Mae, rising early to go after blues, stripers and fluke. He was an herb and vegetable gardener who built hothouses using windows cast off from old homes. He wanted to start building furniture after retirement, and Mrs. Bishop said that he had planned to travel with her, but that this was an idea that, uncharacteristically, he put off for too long. Instead, their memories together are almost exclusively Vineyard ones.
In addition to his wife, sons and daughter in law Grace Bishop, Mr. Bishop is survived by a sister Gloria and brother in law Wayne Morris of Murrieta, Calif.
A party to celebrate his life will be held in July. Contributions in his memory can be made to the nonprofit group You’ve Got a Friend, Inc. Checks with Bill or William Bishop in the subject line may be mailed to the law offices of George B. Brush, 459 State Road, West Tisbury, Mass. 02575.