He was Uncle Bill to a long list of extended family and friends, stretching through California, into Washington state, to the Canadian Midwest, to Australia. Trips to visit Uncle Bill and his beloved Cypress Mountain Ranch highlighted vacation plans, reunions, and road trips for years.
William “Bill” Jacobson, a long-time resident of suburban Glendale in Los Angeles and living his love of everything cowboys and trails in and around Paso Robles, made it clear he’d have none of this nonsense of hospital tubes and hospital confinement. In a bit of frank ranch talk, he made it clear when it’s time, it’s time, get me the hell outta here, and have yourselves a party at the ranch. No more cows and hummingbirds and ranch vistas on his terms? – then, no, thank you, time to bow out, with a fist, and in control. As that early evening descended on Feb. 22, he lassoed a shooting star, fully content with a life well-lived, and rode out into the sunset, smiling at the moon. He was 81.
Bill’s late twin sister, Helen, took on the wild winters and prairie adventure of Winnipeg, and there the Canadian side of the family, the Crusts, were thrilled when the larger-than-life uncle made his periodic visits. Uncle Bill, his heart stretching the California coast, was a treat, with his laundromat in Burbank, down the road from Disney studios, a hint of a Hollywood sparkle radiating his personality. Bill was an original and could have easily been a magical figure on a Disney set, pulling an extraordinary moment out of thin air. He knew better than anyone – quick to lecture the proper way to make ice cubes or how to put a key onto a key chain (and he was often right). He was a madman in the kitchen, a culinary virtuoso turning any meal into a sensation. You could never toss out a chipped or broken ceramic coffee mug because that one was also his favorite, a mug that told a story. He built a dune buggy, unleashing his creation on the streets of Burbank and Glendale, thrilling any kid riding with him, capped off with a stop at Baskin-Robbins.
Bill had a way of making a family gathering that much more memorable. He was the uncle that slept in and missed his nephew John’s bar mitzvah (but got there in time for the food). He was the best babysitter. Just ask his great-nieces Sarah and Lainey. When they were young children, he happily kept a watchful eye in the park. “Wake up, Uncle Bill!” they urged, tugging at his shirt. “It’s time to go home!” And the classic fishing story: He inaugurated little Lou’s birthday fishing rod at Winnipeg Beach. “Here, Lou, I’ll show you how to cast!” It was a beautiful cast – line, rod, and all, hurtling out, the rippling depths of the harbor swallowing it whole. And, yet, despite such humorous moments, Bill was genuine and generous to a tee. Multi-talented in so many ways, he brought a slice of life to memory gold, extending from family and friends (and often blurring the two) to being “THE Bill!” among the Cal Poly Rose Float gang at his alma mater, always the ardent supporter.
Bill, the precocious son of Louis and Bona Jacobson, was born on Nov. 8, 1939. He grew up on West Elm Avenue in Burbank – what could be more emblematic of post-war San Fernando Valley than that? – where horses still clop by, a neighborhood dabbed with a pastoral brilliance. Nearby, his dad and Uncle Phil operated Jacobson Bros. truck parts on San Fernando Road in Glendale. For Bill, the three-acre back lot (much of it pushing into Burbank) was a private playground that set the imagination on fire – a backlot wilderness of old trucks, and, even better, weeded amid the wreckage treasures were “military toys,” such as jeeps, half-tracks, and an amphibious jeep.
Neighbor David Banta tagged along, mischievous kid adventures crowned with root beer floats cemented a bond for life, and, later, a pack of Banta kids would also have that special uncle illuminating their lives. Bill attended Burroughs High School, went on to study animal husbandry at Cal Poly Pomona, followed by a stint of grad school at Florida State University in Tallahassee. A meandering path through the 1960s took him through Australia, where he worked as a “jackeroo,” something of a ranch hand learning the trade. “Our Billy Boy” in that “Texan hat” weaved friendships into the strongest of ties. All roads kept leading back down under, with cows and horses coloring his vision. He picked up an old Wolseley, and, in what was none other than Uncle Bill style, this Burbank kid in British car glory explored the wonders of Australia. Ideas for a spread of land kicked into gear.
Fast-forward a decade or so, and Bill set his eyes on a parcel of land in a pocket of San Luis Obispo County called Adelaida, just off an old stagecoach road down from an abandoned mine, where characters straight out of a Steinbeck novel sculpt the landscape, and one Ignacy Jan Paderewski, a Polish pianist-cum-prime minister (yup, a real prime minister of Poland), once lived in the region and grew grapes. Uncle Bill regaled at it all. He fit in perfectly. In between maintaining his washers and dryers and running his Real Estate Services in Los Angeles (or in his apartment living room), his place in the golden stretches of this countryside took shape. He had a field day designing this building, that project. The land, nestled at the foot of a mountain and extending upward, reflected deep in his eyes as he revved up his pickup, all smiles, anxious to gun out of that underground parking lot in Glendale, raring to get to his ranch.
The role of an uncle can be ambiguous, but Bill crafted unclehood into a serious endeavor, graciously surrendering his Glendale living room innumerable days and nights. He was a handful at times, and, of course, we were, too, a combustible mix that knew no bounds yet framed great lessons in life. There was the time his bathtub filled up with a sludge of grapefruit and orange rinds – somebody didn’t properly use the garbage disposal. “Just one more phone call,” he would call out yet again, documents and envelopes flying every which way at the dining table that, more often than not, was a mounting clutter of a desk. Once we were off, adventures included camping, dinosaur skeletons and tar pits, old steam engine trains at Griffith Park, movies, cream soda and a sandwich, fittingly enough, at Billy’s Deli, or maybe a sub at Giamela’s.
Or, on a whim, for a bit of fun, he took his little niece Laura to watch the horses at an auction (Bill, again, falling asleep), and, somehow – “Sir, that little girl could sure use a pony!” “No, no…” – somehow in true Uncle Bill form, he ended up buying the last horse up for grabs, Mcleo Toni, and then – surprise! – the mare was pregnant. Cleo was born. An array of horse’s names soon graced Bill’s words like a country music song. And, as they say, the rest is history.
Our Uncle Bill – mentor, friend – rode off into the sunset that Monday evening. A memorial gathering is pending.
Donations in Bill’s memory to the charity of one’s choice are welcome.