F.T. Norton
Nevada Appeal

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November 13, 2009
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Car-driving dogs' trainer dies, just weeks after beloved retriever

Bill Williamson, a man made famous by his car-driving dogs, died Tuesday, three weeks after cancer also took his beloved golden retriever Beau.

For at least four decades, with four different dogs, Williamson participated in the Nevada Day Parade, riding shotgun in his Model T Ford with Buddy, Beaver, Budd or Beauregard behind the wheel.

And most Christmases in recent memory, there was Williamson and his dog Budd and then Beau, carrying Santa Claus to the Capitol tree-lighting ceremony downtown.

Williamson never revealed the secret of how he pulled off the feat.

The dogs garnered national attention for the former Carson City gas station owner. Man and best friend appeared on television programs in the '70s and '80s. In fact, his first car-driving dog, Buddy, appeared on the program "Hee Haw" for three seasons, driving Junior Samples' car.

In September 2002, Williamson and Budd won a Purina dog food pet contest. But just days before receiving the $10,000 prize and 10 years' worth of dog food, the golden retriever galloped across Airport Road to greet children and was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver.

The loss devastated Williamson, he said at the time, yet he pulled himself together and found another dog he named Beauregard.

Of course, he taught Beau to drive, too.

Back on the parade circuit the duo went, tooling down Carson Street in the Nevada Day parade, and carting St. Nick to the tree lightings.

A year ago, Williamson was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Shortly after, Beau was diagnosed with lymphoma.

Williamson's wife Maxine said that one morning in mid-October her husband went outside to the get the newspaper and found Beau's lifeless body.

By this time, the cancer was wreaking havoc on Williamson's body. He was too ill to even attend this year's Nevada Day parade.

On Nov. 5 he underwent his first chemotherapy session. Afterward, he suffered a heart attack and doctors kept him in the hospital.

On Saturday, the family brought him home.

Everyone pitched in, taking shifts to be with Papa, Maxine said. They set him up in a hospital bed where he could look out the window and see his shop and his Model T.

"He never was by himself and he could look out and see all his stuff," she said.

On Tuesday, Williamson, 88, made a final request of his wife of 50 years.

"He said get my glasses, I want to read the paper. So I did and I set his bed up enough so he could read. And he said, 'I think I'll take a nap first,' " Maxine recalled Thursday. "He never said too much after that."

Williamson died about 11 a.m.

"I always thought I would go first," said Maxine, 79, on Thursday. "We tried everything that they had to offer and nothing worked."

Granddaughter Sherri Abeyta said the family was devastated by the loss.

Papa never forgot to tell her he loved her.

"That's one of the last things he said when he was still in the hospital before we brought him home. He was there for all the grandkids. He was just the dad figure in our lives. He was the only one."

Almost to the end, Maxine said, Williamson kept his sense of humor.

"He'd gotten so thin that his wedding ring fell off, and he said, 'Now that means I can chase women,' " she recalled "When he got real bad and lost a lot of weight, (Sherri's husband) Paul had to come over and pick him up, he'd say, 'Now, don't try to kiss me.'"

Sherri said Maxine finds some comfort in the thinking of Bill and his dogs together.

"She said, 'You're with your family, you're with your dogs. We think he's probably surrounded by animals up there," said Sherri.

Bill is survived by his wife, daughter Carolyn Harrison, four grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren, and four great-great grandchildren.

He was preceded in death by his 4-year-old daughter Catherine who died of leukemia, and daughter Debra Mae, who died at seven days old.

A public memorial service is set for Nov. 23 at 3 p.m. at the Elks Lodge on Nevada Street. A private funeral will be held at a later date.

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The Nevada Appeal Updated Nov 15, 2009 02:59AM Published Nov 13, 2009 10:24PM Copyright 2009 The Nevada Appeal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.