Bill Spear: Going his way

Posted: Monday, December 01, 2003

Alaska had been a state for less than a decade in 1968. The Trans-Alaska pipeline wouldn't be completed for another nine years. And William Spear interviewed in a Kansas City airport for a job he would take as an assistant attorney general under Alaska Gov. Walter Hickel.

Armed with a degree from Georgetown University and a law degree from the University of Nebraska, Spear cut his political teeth on state issues that had an impact for decades.

In 1974, he campaigned for gubernatorial candidate Jay Hammond and later worked on his staff.

He worked on the state's Resident Hire law during a stint at the state labor department. He helped negotiate Native land claims during the lease sale for the pipeline. Later, he served as head of the Alaska Renewable Resources Corporation, a venture capital bank established with state oil money.

After serving on the ARRC, Spear abandoned his career in state government and chose a different path. In the early 1980s, he decided to pursue a longtime hobby - art.

"A lot of this stuff is starting to become a vague memory," Spear said last week at his downtown storefront, Wm Spear Design, where he designs and sells handcrafted enamel pins.

His pins include themes such as reptiles, dogs, birds, fish, boats, planes, food, drink, architecture and automobiles. They're sold all over the world and have been displayed in the Guggenheim Museum. Spear also has designed pins for the National Air and Space Society, The Nature Conservancy and the Audubon Society.

The following are excerpts from his 2004 catalog:

• Red wine: "Once again wine has robbed me of my cloak of honor," my old Dad used to say. Wear these to the next wine tasting.

• Bagpipe: How is a bagpipe different from an onion? Because nobody cries when you cut up a bagpipe.

• Genghis Khan: Tired of new age wimps? Need a talisman for an important fight? Try this guy on for size. The George Washington of Mongolia. "Man's highest joy is in victory; to conquer one's enemies, to pursue them, to deprive them of their possessions, to make their beloved weep, to ride their horses and to hold their best women in our arms."

Medical science is the big trend in pin sales these days, Spear said. He has an entire page in the catalogue dedicated to kidneys, livers, lungs, hearts, bones, brains and a DNA double helix.

"Patients give them to their doctors and doctors give them to their patients," he said. "Where else can you get a pancreas pin?"

Spear's story is more than just another lawyer who decided to drop out of the rat race. His life is a story of community, independence and exploration.

"The nice thing about running your own ship is that you work twice as hard, but you do it at your own pace," he said.

Self-employment has given him time to pursue a personal obsession - restoring old Bantam Roadsters from the 1930s. The compact cars were often driven by comedians such as Buster Keaton and W.C. Fields.

"It was almost loved to death," Spear said. "They just became a joke, and nobody wanted to drive a joke."

In August, Spear was invited to Pebble Beach, Calif., to show his fully restored 1939 Bantam Roadster at the Concours d'Elegance.

Spear also has researched the history of the Bantam cars and collaborated on a screenplay with local filmmaker Dave Hunsaker. The screenplay, titled "The War Pony," tells the story of the Bantam Company's 1941 release of the Bantam Reconnaissance Car - a precursor to the Jeep - which ultimately replaced horses on the battlefield.

The two are currently trying to sell the movie in Hollywood, and Spear said he also is working on a book about the topic.

"It's kind of an obscure bit of American history," Hunsaker said. "It's the true story about how they invented and created the first Jeep."

When he's not designing new pins or digging up new tidbits about Bantams, Spear works on a program he and several friends set up that teaches kids to play hockey.

"Anchorage is a hockey town," Spear said. "That's going to happen here - it's just a matter of time. Some people that are going to be coaches in 10 years don't even know how to skate yet."

Annie Calkins, a longtime friend and organizer of the program, said the club holds practices weekly at the Treadwell Arena.

She said Spears' vision is that the group eventually will play teams in Whitehorse, Anchorage and Fairbanks. The program is in its second year, she said.

"When Bill gets an idea and enthusiastically backs that idea, it's contagious," she said.

• For more info on the hockey club, contact William Spear at 586-2209.

• Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at

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