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20 years

Battlin' Bill Barnstead fought his last fight...
Around 11:30 a.m., Thursday, July 9, 2009, Battlin' Bill Barnstead—the Old Warrior—fought his last fight on Earth. Bill crossed the great divide between life and eternity after losing a decade-long battle with cancer. It was a journey he had been personally expecting to make for quite some time. I expect a Heavenly Host awaited his arrival, shaking his hand as he arrived, and telling him, "Well done, my son, well done." Bill Barnstead was a great man. He didn't know he was, but he was. He was also my friend. That, he knew.

Those of you who read my website knew Bill and admired him for his grit, his common sense savvy and his bulldog, political tenacity. You got to know the Old Warrior, but you never had the pleasure to meet the man. Bill may have left us, but you will still enjoy getting to know him. If Readers' Digest still carried their "Most Unforgettable Character" feature in their magazine, I'd have submitted Bill's life to their readers. He was a genuine rags-to-riches kind of guy.

When he left the service at the end of World War II, Bill had an idea for a company, and he had $500 burning a hole in his pocket. Along with that $500, Bill also had a pregnant wife, Charlotte—and no prospects for a "real" job. Most women, who are with child, expect their husbands to work a normal 9-to-5 job on someone else's dime—not their last one. Charlotte was not really all that excited about her recently discharged military husband investing every penny they had in the world into an idea that logic suggested, at least to her, was "ify" at best. In fact, a lot of flying saucers—and we're not talking about the UFO kind—must have filled the air in the Barnstead kitchen when Bill decided to invest their last dime in this "ify" business venture. Although Bill never said it to me, I'd expect the usual, "I'm going to pack my bags if you do" accompanied the hypothetical flying dishes.

Weathering that storm, Bill founded a company that quickly evolved into Consolidated Stills and Sterilizers in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1946. That same year he also founded the Sudbury Metal Spinning Company and he became his own supplier. Consolidated manufactured rolling-door autoclaves and water stills for the Department of Defense. Today, Consolidated Stills and Sterilizers is one of the oldest sterilizer and water still manufacturers in the United States. Still later, he formed another company, Scotty Fabricators, a sheet metal fabrication plant.

Consolidated grew into an international concern with customers in 60 nations around the globe. In a restless sort of way, Bill was not really content with his success. Although he may not have even realized it himself in the early years, he missed his calling. He should have been in politics. Bill was a very analytical guy. He looked at the nation, saw the problems, and instinctively knew how to fix them. Only the people in government whose job it was to fix the problems were clueless how to do it. They used Band-Aids to fix problems that needed a tourniquet; and they used tourniquets to fix problems that required a Band-Aid. Bill tested the political waters gingerly with local politics. From 1964 to 1976 he was the Chairman of the Arlington Republican Town Committee and then Chairman of the Lexington Republican Town Committee, followed by a more active group, the Republicans for Middlesex County.

Ultimately, Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neil, the flamboyant Democratic House Speaker, who became Reagan's nemesis, became Bill's nemesis first. Running self-financed political campaigns, winning the GOP nomination for the 8th Congressional District of Massachusetts, Bill tried twice to unseat O'Neil who was originally elected to fill John F. Kennedy's House seat in the 11th Congressional District in 1952 when Kennedy moved over to the US Senate. Most wanabee, upstart candidates for national office don't worry any well-financed sitting House members. But, for some reason, political novice Bill Barnstead bothered then House Majority Leader Tip O'Neil. O'Neil called him one day and bluntly, but very politely, asked Bill exactly what he wanted to achieve in his fledgling political career. He assured Bill he could have any job in the State government that he wanted. When Bill hung up the phone that day, he knew one thing about Tip O'Neil that he didn't know before that call. Tip O'Neil thought Barnstead could beat him. That might have happened, too, Bill surmised after-the-fact, had he only invested a few more dollars in a grassroots campaign that excluded all mass media. Bill remained convinced to the end that, had he done so, he would have beat Tip O'Neil.

Bill campaigned hard for Gov. Ronald Reagan [R-CA] in 1976, but the nomination went to the nation's first appointed president, former Michigan Congressman Gerald Ford who lost that year to the Georgia peanut farmer, Jimmy Carter. Bill noted that until Obama, Carter was the worst president in the history of the United States.

Bill was politically active throughout his whole adult life. He served as the Chairman of the Republicans for Middlesex County, and as Chairman of the Lexington Republican Town Committee. He also served as Chairman of the Arlington Republican Town Committee. During the Reagan years, he served on the International Trade Administration and the Industrial Sector Advisory Committee. He was an associate member of the Republican State Committe. He was also a member, since 1988, with a group of Congressmen, Senators and Corporate leaders and University presidents fighting for term limits. He was an active member of the Limited Terms for Congress Committee.

Bill Barnstead was a restless entrepreneur most of his life. Bill was not happy unless he was building something—not walls, or cabinets, but companies that needed to be built because they would serve a meaningful purpose. After Consolidated Stills and Sterilizers, his "building" consisted of the Sudbury Metal Spinning Company, Scotty Fabricators, and the Barnstead Broadcasting Corporation (WFDG-TV 28) followed by Barnstead Engineering Co. Even when he relaxed, he still had a yen to build. He and three friends decided the community needed a yacht club. So they built one. Bill was one of the founding Commodores of the Allen Harbor Yacht Club. Charlotte insists today that Bill and his friends only built the Yacht Club so they would have a quiet place, away from business—and their wives—where they could sit and play gin rummy every weekend.

In 1944 while serving in the US Army, Bill suffered some medical problems that kept him from being deployed to Europe with his unit. His closest buddies died in the Battle of the Bulge. Searching for reasons why he was the only survivor of this close knit group of men, he became convinced that God spared him so that he might do something positive for his country. That conviction tugged at his soul throughout all of his political and economic endeavors.

Maybe Bill was right. His equipment was used by Dr. Jonas Salk in developing the polio vaccine. He also worked with the Tufts Medical School on improving sterilization technology and methodology. Bill also played an important role in the creation of a portable devise to desalinize ocean water that could be used by navy sailors on small life rafts. Bill was an entrepreneur who held several patents in water distillation and sterilization. He constantly tinkered with methods to improve sterilization conditions in hospitals by reducing the number of nosocomical infections.

Over the past three years Bill also became an advertorial writer, with his barbed political commentaries appearing in full page ads almost weekly in the Washington Times National Weekly Edition. His columns were replayed on several globally-read websites. While the right loved him, the left slammed him. In a recent advertorial on Supreme Court nominee Sonio Sotomayor, Bill noted in his Washington Times NWE ad that 60% of the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals cases that Sotomayor authored, the opinion (a total of five cases), 60% of them were overturned. A liberal blog, Blogging Blue, noted that 380 cases had been heard by the 3rd Circuit, and that 60% of them were 228, voicing the response: "Whoa, Nelly..." following by: "Have we abandoned the truth? Or just Republicans? Or just some Republicans?" And, of course, the far left blog-followers jumped on the bandwagon, ignoring the fact—if they saw it at all—that Bill spoke only of the five decisions which Sotomayor herself authored. Bill then noted that the fourth Sotomayor opinion, the New Haven firefighters, was coming up for review by the US Supreme Court and it was very likely that it, too, would be overturned. Which it was.

Bill is survived by his wife, Charlotte, his son William, Jr., his daughter Christine Barnstead Arneson, and one daughter-in-law, Judy. He is also survived by one grandson, Eric Barnstead and three granddaughter, Pam Robinson, Crystal Arneson and Kelsey Lewis and three great-grandchildren.

A great man walked among us for 89 and a half years. Strangers who passed him on the street never knew that they were in the touching distance of greatness. I knew this man very well for over three years, yet we never met eyeball-to-eyeball, and never shook hands. Our words to one another were our bond. We spoke daily, maybe five or six times each day—usually about what the idiots on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue were doing and what we could do to stop them or, at least slow them down. And, occasionally, to cheer rising greatness in the Republican Party, as we did when Sarah Palin arose from the ashes of fleeting liberty. Palin was summarily attacked by the GOP hierarchy as the reason that designated election-loser John McCain lost the election of 2008. When you agree to hold the kryptonite as McCain did, not even Superman can help you.

Earlier this year Bill asked me to write his biography. I agreed. But the plans to get together in Boston were postponed once, twice, then again and again until winter was gone and spring was upon us. In May he told me we needed to get the work started because, he said, he didn't think he had that much time left. I told him he was indestructible. We laughed, but he knew. I was making travel plans with Bill's plant manager when Bill fell at home in late June. The downhill spiral was fast and tragically, final. We never got to meet eyeball-to-eyeball. We never got to shake hands.

Had Bill had another year or two, I'm convinced he would have fixed the problems in Washington, or painted them on every fence post in the nation so every American would know who was doing what—and why. At the very least, he would have cleared the brambles and thorns from the path to make it easier for those who'd had enough and found themselves compelled to follow in his footsteps. Over the last two months Bill repeatedly told me that he wished that one person would stand up in his stead. Bill's mantle has fallen. Is there just one more Old Warrior out there who is willing to pick it up the mantle and finish the work Bill started before we lose this great nation?



Just Say No
Copyright 2009 Jon Christian Ryter.
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