Fiset, Bill

Bill Fiset
Mr. Fiset died May 2, 2004 at the age of 83 at the Villa San Miguel nursing home in Walnut Creek after a long illness. "He was tall, lean and handsome, and he dressed well," said television reporter Bob MacKenzie, who worked with Mr. Fiset for a time at the Tribune. "He had a lot of style for a newspaperman. If he saw you wearing a light jacket in the winter, he'd say 'rushing the season, aren't we?' But his impeccable sartorial style belied his hard-nosed ability get a story, and Mr. Fiset, long before he became a columnist, covered many of the high-profile cases of the 1950s and 1960s tied to such infamous names as Burton Abbott, Caryl Chessman, Barbara Graham and the Mountain Murder Mob.
Mr. Fiset was born in Seattle and educated at Queen Anne High School and the University of Washington. During World War II, he went to North Africa to join the American Field Service, the volunteer civilian-operated ambulance service that transported wounded soldiers to field hospitals. In the spring of 1942, he resigned from the ambulance service and joined the British 8th Army, serving as a machine-gunner defending convoys from enemy bombers. 
In the fall, he left the British Army to return to the United States where he joined the U.S. Navy and served as a blimp pilot in Airship Patrol Squadron 32, flying submarine-spotting missions out of Moffett Naval Air Station in Santa Clara County. After the war, Mr. Fiset took up newspapering, first at the Oakland Post- Enquirer, then at the San Francisco Call-Bulletin. By 1952, he had joined the Oakland Tribune, where he would stay for the rest of his career.

In 1956, Mr. Fiset started writing the Tribune's first TV column and was so popular that he was invited to do walk-on parts on such shows as "Route 66" and "Tales of Wells Fargo." Six years later, Mr. Fiset was given a general-interest column at the Tribune and, as MacKenzie put it, referring to The Chronicle's late columnist, "he always felt he was in Herb Caen's shadow. He knew that if anyone had a great item, they'd be more likely to call Herb Caen, and that kind of annoyed him." Nonetheless, MacKenzie said, Mr. Fiset "developed his own local characters, like Bozo Miller, a local businessman who once ate a turkey and called it 'a snack.'  While he was doing the column, his past days of covering the Bay Area's arch criminals -- such as child killers -- stuck with Mr. Fiset, and he decided to do something about it. He wrote two public service booklets -- "This is Sherry" and "Want to Be Smart" -- to "warn children and parents about the dangers of kidnapping and child sex offenders," Mr. Fiset's son Gary Fiset said.
The Tribune distributed the books free, all over the world. The FBI commended Mr. Fiset's work as "a graphic message which may mean the difference between life and death for countless youngsters." Police departments in the United States and Canada ordered thousands of copies.
In addition to his column, Mr. Fiset kept his hand in the news business, and in 1973 he filed an eyewitness account of the crash of a supersonic Soviet Tu-144 plane at the Paris Air Show. He also wrote about the airlift of children from Vietnam, orchestrated by Ed Daly, the owner of World Airways.
After his retirement in 1983, Mr. Fiset played a lot of golf and would socialize with other retired newspaper people. In addition to his son, Gary, of Alamo, Mr. Fiset is survived by his wife of nearly 60 years, Marion Fiset of Walnut Creek; another son, Rick Fiset of Danville; a daughter, Michele Fiset Rice of Bryn Mawr, Pa.; and eight grandchildren.

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