Life Isn’t Always Easy, But It Can Be Fulfilling: Bill Rainford’s Story
Carlton is not the first place Bill Rainford has lived in the neighborhood dominated by Taylor Boulevard, Pleasant Hill Road and Alhambra Avenue. A few years ago he owned a condo on Ridgeview Court, which is located near Carlton. But he has also resided in an impressive number of other neighborhoods across the country and overseas for much of his life before ending up twice, so to speak, in Pleasant Hill.
Rainford is the name of a village in the northwest of England formerly famous as a producer of clay pipes. His paternal grandfather grew up there leaving in the 1890s to fight in the Boer War. Coming home, he soon married and then sailed with his wife and baby son to the United States. They lived briefly in Boston before settling in Norwich, Vermont where Bill’s father grew up. Norwich University was the first of six private military colleges and universities, including The Citadel in South Carolina, organized in the United States. Although less well known nationally, it is recognized as the birthplace 200 years ago of what later became the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) which operates not only in the private military colleges but also in many of the land grant universities across the country. Bill’s father graduated from Norwich and chose a military career which included World War II.
Bill was born on December 5, 1939 in Goffstown, New Hampshire. All he remembers about WWII is the invasion of Normandy and the town grocery store where, like this writer, he pestered his mother for a treat only to be told she didn’t have enough ration stamps for it. He had barely started school in 1945 when the family packed up and prepared to go to western Germany where his father had been assigned as an occupation officer.
The Rainfords were taken to Frankfurt first. To Bill’s young eyes, the city “looked like a table because of the bombing.” By 1950, the Germans had cleaned up most of the bomb wreckage but hadn’t yet replaced the buildings. The cities have long since been rebuilt but the vivid reminder of Frankfort then is still stark in his memory 75 years later.
Nearby Heidelberg remained largely intact because of its many hospitals and thus was spared the massive destruction of most of Germany’s major cities. As a result, American military officers and their families were assigned homes there. Bill, now six years old, went to the American schools established for children of the military. It wasn’t always easy for him or the rest of the family. One neighborhood German child, grieving his father’s death on the Eastern Front, threw some liquid on Bill’s face which stung badly but fortunately caused no permanent damage.
However, Bill does have a cherished memory of his years in Germany. “I met a fascinating man who could see our back yard from his bedroom. He invited me to visit him.” The man was an elderly bed-ridden gentleman who had been a Field Marshal in the German Army. Unfortunately, Bill does not know his name or any details about his service but having learned enough German by the time they met, he always greeted him by saying “Guten Tag, Herr Feld Marshal” as he sat down to be enthralled by the stories the Field Marshal recounted about World War I and the Kaiser. When the old man died, he left Bill his World War I dress military helmet, a picture of the Kaiser and a set of all the postage stamps used in the German African colonies prior to World War I.
The family returned to the U. S. when Bill was a 5th grader. “We moved all the time,” he recalls. When his father was stationed at the Pentagon, Bill remembers riding his bike on a Saturday from their home in Arlington to the 14th Street Bridge bus terminal, leaving the key to his bike lock with the terminal clerk and catching the bus to the Library of Congress where a librarian was ready to help him find the research materials he needed for a class assignment. His father demanded to know where he had been but couldn’t say much when Bill told him and showed the research material he had obtained.
When it was time for high school, his father made him go to Valley Forge Military Academy. The most positive thing to Bill about the celebrated school was the fact that J. D. Salinger had attended it and used it as the setting for “Catcher in the Rye.” After being dismissed in his junior year for drinking, Bill was sent to live with an aunt and uncle in a small New Hampshire town and finished his high school education at a school with only 17 students, a much happier experience than Valley Forge.
Bill’s British grandfather was a real American politician, he says. He never ran for office himself but had managed the first Senate campaign of Styles Bridges, a nationally known five term senator from New Hampshire from the 1930s to 1961. At one point, he recalls, “my father told the Senator I wanted to go to West Point.” Bill refused to apply for an appointment. But when he graduated from high school in 1956, he chose to enlist in the army with his mother’s help.
His father was shocked. “You want to go into the army as an enlisted man?” he exclaimed. Asked why when he couldn’t stand his father, he still wanted to follow him into the Army, Bill’s response was, “I was going to go anyway so he couldn’t stop it.” Later in his young adulthood, on another issue, Bill says he told his father off and never spoke to him again. “I had a difficult childhood,” he observes in a matter-of-fact tone of voice.
The United States Army Airborne Division was famous in WWII for parachuting into Normandy on D-Day and other important battles. Bill loved Army Airborne both as an enlisted man and later as an officer and eventually took enough training to reach the top skill and leadership positions.
One of his first orders after completing basic training was to go to Alaska for jump training. After seven years at various posts, in 1963 he was encouraged by his peers and those above him in rank to apply for the Army’s Officer Candidate School (OCS) at Fort Benning, Georgia. Bill apparently was ready himself since his father was not coercing him. But he notes, the recommendations said his work ethic and values were exactly perfect to be
an officer. The predictions were correct. He was promoted from Second to First Lieutenant and then to Captain. Bill also earned a Bronze Star, an Army commendation medal and two Purple Hearts in Vietnam.
OCS was a successful experience for him. Bill graduated first in his class which gave him his choice
of assignment. When asked if his father ever said anything to him about becoming an officer, the
answer was “No.” Soon he and his family with two young children went to the 508th Airborne based
in Panama. When America became involved in the Vietnam War, Bill was transferred to the 101st
Airborne at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Commanding a rifle company, he knew the troops needed to
be “whipped into shape because we all knew where we were going.” There would be no parachute
jumps in Vietnam.
Like many combat veterans, Bill chooses not to talk about his year in Vietnam except to describe it as a “maturing experience.” As it turned out, his year “in country” ended in February 1968, just as the North Vietnamese were launching the Tet Offensive. He knows he was fortunate to miss that.
Bill left the army within two years because, he admits, “I wanted to make money” but also because he felt he had accomplished what he wished to in the service. He was then encouraged by others to learn about the new and expanding world of computers. The Army Data Processing Training was excellent, he says, and it landed him his first civilian job, working for Ross Perot.
Perot was one of the earliest businessmen to develop a large, successful business using computers to help other businesses manage data whether in employment, sales, records or any other need they had easy record-keeping of all kinds of information. Asked what Perot was like, Bill pointed out that the millionaire mainly hired retired military like himself. Perot “was driving, dynamic and expected a huge effort” from employees, he observed. When asked why he left after two years, he replied, “I liked bigger computers. They’re more satisfying.”
For the next several years as computers took a larger and larger place in our lives both in business and soon in our homes, Bill worked for and learned a lot at a number of companies either developing or applying computers to their businesses. He worked for Control Data where “I got some training in programming.”
Other company names on Bill’s resume included National Semi-Conductor and Foremost-McKesson Data Center in Oakland which paid him an annual salary of $40,000 which seemed like half the money in the
world to him in the 70s.
From 1980-81, he was Director of Computers at UCSF Medical Center. He calls that his favorite job although he left it after only one year. The reason? Bill answer was that while the Center’s administration was very easy to work with, “dealing with the doctors” was another and very frustrating story.
After a number of years of working for others, he decided to set up two small companies, one specializing in networking projects, the other focused on custom work such as designing logos for companies such as Safeway.
Bill considers himself lucky to have entered the field when he did. With a smile, he says, “if you
could find your fanny, it was easy to learn.”
Meanwhile, his third marriage had failed due to his wife’s alcoholism. Bill, who has been clean and sober for 37 years, asked for and received full custody of the couple’s seven-year-old Katie who has grown into a mature, bright, capable and charming woman with a degree in psychology from USF and a Master’s degree in business at New York University. She now works for a consulting firm specializing in giving people with potential the tools they can use to enhance their skills and be successful. That is a talent she inherited from her father who used it on a number of people he managed as well as, he admits, his own daughter.
Bill took Katie all around the country during the summers of her youth to see the variety of sites of beauty and historical interest our country possesses. He also took her to Contra Costa Children’s Chorus rehearsals and any other activity she was involved in. The pair even cleaned house together each Saturday using Katie’s checklist of what needed to be done.
When Bill was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2010, Katie, by then a junior at Campolindo High School, lived with her loving maternal grandparents while Bill was recovering.
Katie is very fortunate in her education, Bill feels, because she attended the highly rated Palmer School for elementary and middle school students in Walnut Creek. He was sorry to learn of its closing in early June of this year.
“She’s an amazing young woman,” he says proudly. Katie now is a very successful personnel analyst working for Connery Business Consulting, a firm that has software that provides people who have a lot of potential the tools they can use to enhance their abilities and opportunities just as her father had done in his work life.
When asked if it all boils down to “you looked after her when she was a child and now, she is looking after you as a senior?” He thought about it and “Yes” was his unequivocal answer.
When Bill was asked what he was proudest of looking back over his 80 years on earth, he didn’t hesitate. “I was able to spot people with talent and get them started.” After giving some examples (ED: which would certainly include Katie), he concluded by saying “I have great pride in my ability to develop people.”
Written by Harriett Burt, Carlton Senior Living Pleasant Hill-Martinez Resident