I met and worked with many wealthy people during my 28-year diplomatic career, but I never met a rich person who was nicer or more self-effacing than my late friend William W. “Bill” Bliss, who died July 12 at the age of 93.
Although I knew Bill slightly during the 1960s, we didn’t become friends until I returned to Carson in the mid-1990s when another old friend, Guy Shipler, invited me to a “ROMEO” (Retired Old Men Eating Out) lunch. Not that we were all that ancient, but that’s what we called our lunch group, which has changed to the point where I’m the only one still here to tell the story. So I’ll tell it, although Bill would object because he didn’t like being the center of attention.
In recent years our ROMEO lunch group met on Mondays at Grandma Hattie’s and all of us had stories to tell. Between Bill Bliss and Jim Costa, we learned a lot about Nevada history because Bill’s family had established Glenbrook on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe and Jim came from an Italian immigrant family who settled in Winnemucca where his father was the local elementary school custodian.
Bill and co-author Sessions “Buck” Wheeler told the colorful Glenbrook story in a 1992 book published by the University of Nevada Press titled “Tahoe Heritage: The Bliss Family of Glenbrook, Nevada.” Of course Bill made sure his old friend Buck got top billing. As Nevada’s favorite writer, Robert Laxalt, wrote in his foreword to Tahoe Heritage, “We have a chronicle of a remarkable family of larger-than-life figures with their roots sunk deep into living western history.”
Bill told stories about the Laxalt brothers — Bob, Paul, John and Peter (“Mickey”) — caddying at the Glenbrook Golf Course when they were schoolboys, and another unforgettable story about how legendary actor Clark Gable bused tables at the Inn while he was staying there awaiting a divorce. That’s when Bill and Gable became lifelong friends, although Bill wouldn’t want me to write about that.
According to Tahoe Heritage, the Bliss/Glenbrook story began in 1849 when Bill’s great-grandfather, adventurous 16-year-old Duane L. Bliss, of Savoy, Mass., booked passage to San Francisco via Panama, where he almost died from deadly “Chagres Fever.” Young Duane survived, however, and made it to San Francisco, settling briefly in nearby Marysville before crossing the Sierra Nevada Mountains to Gold Hill, Nev., where he prospered in mining and banking before founding the Carson and Tahoe Lumber and Fluming Company with partner H.M. Yerington.
Eventually, D.L. Bliss and Yerington logged off thousands of acres of timber at Lake Tahoe, but according to Buck Wheeler, “Duane Bliss had the foresight to see that someday the beautiful lake and its surroundings would be a great resort area,” and that’s exactly what happened when the Bliss family opened the elegant Glenbrook Inn in 1907.
Bill’s grandfather, William S. Bliss, managed the Inn until 1941, when his son Will (Bill’s father) took over. After his father died in 1960, Bill managed the Inn until it closed in 1976. As one old-timer recalled, “The closing of Glenbrook was like the passing of an old and beloved friend.”
Bill, who loved Nevada’s wide open spaces, hunted Indian arrowheads in the Black Rock Desert and explored widely throughout the state. He was a major benefactor of the University of Nevada, the Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, art associations (Bill was a gifted artist), and many other cultural institutions and organizations. He was a loyal friend and delightful lunch companion for 20 years. He’ll be sorely missed by all who knew this distinguished Nevadan.
Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, became an adopted Nevadan in 1962.