BY MEGAN TOMPKINS
GOODYEAR, AZ—From father to uncle to godfather, Bill Fields was like family to many in the bike industry.
Always willing to offer a friendly ear, an honest opinion and wise counsel developed over 40 years in the bike business, those who knew Fields said they would miss hearing his booming voice over the phone lines.
“He was a father figure to a lot of people. He was the guy you could always call if something wasn’t going right in your career, and he would always help out,” said industry veteran Rick Vosper, who contracted with Fields on some consulting work. “I was tremendously appreciative of everything he did for me and a lot of folks in the industry feel the same way.”
Fields died last month after a six-month battle fighting complications from West Nile virus. He was 75.
Fields acquired West Nile encephalitis on a camping trip in the Arizona desert in March. During an extended hospitalization he contracted other serious infections.
Jennifer Fawcett, his wife of 14 years, recalled his unique ability to connect with anyone of any age on a wide range of subjects.
“He was a smart guy who had wide, far-ranging interests—he did everything from build spy satellites to work in the publishing industry. Listening to all these things that he did was so fascinating. He had the ability to sit down and talk about just about anything,” said Fawcett.
Fields began his career as a design and sales engineer at Hewlett Packard and TRW working on reconnaissance satellite antennas and receivers. He left the engineering field in the ’70s to pursue his interest in the outdoors, setting up a rep agency to sell advertising for “ecology sports” magazines like Bicycling, VeloNews, Wilderness Camping, Canoe and Sierra.
Vosper said his engineering background enabled Fields to look at a problem, understand it and find a solution. “He had that engineer’s way of looking right into the heart of the matter,” said Vosper.
Fields later went to work for Hester Communications, which published Bicycle Dealer Showcase, the leading trade magazine at the time, and produced the industry’s Long Beach Trade Show. After engineering the sale of Hester, Fields launched Bicycle Guide, an up-market consumer cycling publication.
Fields left the publishing business to parlay his years of knowledge and contacts into a role as an industry consultant. He spent the last 20 years consulting on mergers and acquisitions, executive placement and product commercialization.
Industry consultant Gary Coffrin said over the past five to 10 years he talked to Fields multiple times per week, exchanging information and tips, offering one another referrals, and consulting jointly on projects. Coffrin called Fields an amiable guy with a sharp business mind who was generous in offering advice.
“For me, Bill was the wise and nonjudgmental uncle who was there to exchange information offer tips, offer insights—and that was a really valuable thing to me,” said Coffrin. “There was a willingness to extend, a willingness to coach, a willingness to critique. He could offer tips and insights that were sometimes devastating but there was never any judgment—it was just cheerfully offered.”
Chris Allen, general manager for Intense, said he had many “long, soaking discussions” with Fields going back as long as 25 years. Allen said he feels blinder now without Fields’ business perspective.
“He was the dean of the business,” said Allen. “He was a clearing house of information that was several grades above other folks. He was enduringly interested in this business and knew a lot about what was going on. He had such a broad background, but he chose the bike business as his home and many people benefitted.”
Fawcett, who worked closely with Fields in his consulting business and attended Interbike with him each year, said he cherished his industry relationships. “He had more close friends in the industry than in Goodyear. Those were the people he really respected.”
Fields is survived by three children, Patricia Pedersen, William “Tucker” Fields and Mary Judge, and four living grandchildren.