BLACKSTOCK - Bill Lishman was many things to many people.
Accomplished artist, filmmaker and inventor. Pioneering pilot, author and public speaker. Activist and environmentalist.
But there’s one common link through all those achievements for those whose lives connected with Lishman, who died Saturday at the age of 78: Friendship.
“He was so inclusive to everyone who knew him. He let people come into his life relatively easily,” said Dr. Bill Eull of Lishman, a family friend. “He was a very curious guy, a very loving guy who cared about others and was gentle. And he was the best raconteur I’ve ever met.”
Those stories flowed easily yet very humbly from Lishman, who never took his fame too seriously, said Dr. Eull.
“He was spellbinding,” recalled Eull of Lishman’s anecdotes over lunches or movie nights in Port Perry. “He was a totally engaging and amazing guy.”
Born in the former Pickering Township in 1939, Lishman married his wife Paula, the well-known knit-fur inventor in 1968, and they later moved to Scugog in 1974. They have two sons, Geordie and Aaron, and daughter Carmen.
Trying to summarize Lishman’s life is difficult — it’s a unique tale that involves planes, birds, bending metal, crushed cars and knit fur — all with a dash of Hollywood added in.
Perhaps he’s best-known for leading birds to migrate using his ultralight aircraft, which inspired the film Fly Away Home starring Jeff Daniels and landed Lishman the nickname of Father Goose. Or maybe it’s his sculptures, which have been commissioned for places such as Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto and Canada’s Wonderland. Metal sculptures, including one bearing his likeness (Wild Bill), can also be found scattered across his Purple Hill property, southwest of Blackstock, about 55 kilometres southwest of Peterborough.
He created Autohenge for a car commercial in the 1980s, then replicated that in the 1990s with Icehenge on Lake Scugog. Lishman also created an 86-foot-high central theme sculpture for Expo 86 in Vancouver.
Closer to home, Lishman was a member of the Scugog Lake Stewards, helped found the Oshawa Competition Motorcycle Club Inc. in the late 1960s and, in the early 1970s, was a board member and creative director of the People Or Planes citizens group in Pickering.
Or maybe it’s his home, an underground dome that showcases the creativity — and ingenuity — that Lishman seemed to bring with him to tackle all challenges.
Lishman was “an incredibly special guy. He was hugely talented and very generous in every way,” said Neil Turnbull, who worked with Lishman on the Princess Margaret Hospital sculpture project. “He was an incredibly smart man — people talk about doing things and he just did it.”
Lishman “always thought outside the box,” which led to him meeting many people and accumulating plenty of stories to tell, added Turnbull.
“He’s larger than life,” said Turnbull. “He accomplished a lot in his life.”
Lishman also had a soft-spot for helping humanity, added Lynn McDonald, another close family friend. In recent years, he had been coming up with ideas to provide quick emergency shelters as well as ways to deliver much-needed supplies to disaster and remote areas with ultralight aircraft.
“There was a very, very gentle side to Bill. In the same vein as David Suzuki he was always trying to make the situation better, always trying to improve the situation,” she said. “Beyond his creative genius, he was always looking for alternative energies and ways to help humans on a large scale.”
Added McDonald: “He was just so sweet and his mind was always leaping ahead.”
In the summer of 2013, Lishman welcomed the Port Perry Star for a tour of his property and home before sitting down for a lengthy interview. The final question of the afternoon: What is it like to be Bill Lishman?
“It’s comfortable. It’s comfortable. I don’t think I’d do anything differently. When I was a kid, I dreamt about what I wanted to be when I was older. I dreamt that I could walk among the scientists and artists and hold my head up with them. I’ve learned a vast amount, but you’re never finished doing that. It’s worked out for me. Everyone wants to be rich and famous. I’ve got the famous part, but rich is yet to come.”