Share story

Bill Boeing Jr., son of the jetmaker’s founder, died early Thursday in Seattle. He was 92.

Mr. Boeing had broad business interests that included substantial commercial real-estate holdings south of Seattle. He was involved in early hydroplane racing and helped swing Washington state for Ronald Reagan in the 1980 presidential race.

He was best known for his philanthropic support of education, the University of Washington, Seattle Children’s hospital and the city’s Museum of Flight.

Though he never worked at his father’s company, he helped the museum secure the Red Barn, the original Boeing plant in Seattle.

Doug King, the Museum of Flight’s chief executive, called Mr. Boeing an “insightful and driving force” from the museum’s earliest days. “There was always a palpable excitement when he was in the building,” King said in a statement.

Boeing Chairman and Chief Executive Jim McNerney said executives at the company were deeply saddened by the passing of a man representing a link to the early history of the company, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary next year.

Son-in-law Brad Barnard said Mr. Boeing died peacefully in his sleep.

Schooling, then business

William E. Boeing Jr. was born in Seattle in 1922 to Bertha and William E. Boeing, founder of the aircraft giant. They lived in the Highlands neighborhood.

At the age of 5 he had his first ride in an airplane, one of the Boeing Co.’s 40-series mail-delivery planes.

The onset of the Depression sparked severe labor unrest in Seattle, and when he was 7, a clash between police and Communist Party demonstrators spooked his father and mother.

“His parents thought it would be best for Bill to move away from Seattle as there was a lot of turmoil in the area,” according to an official biography supplied by the family.

Mr. Boeing and his cousin Jane were sent with a governess to live in Honolulu, Hawaii, where they stayed for two years. He lived at the Halekulani Hotel, attended Punahou School and learned to surf.

After Mr. Boeing graduated from the Webb School in Claremont, Calif., he developed his own small role in aviation.

He started AeroCopters, a helicopter company, and built a hangar at Boeing Field. AeroCopters operated for nine years, flying supplies into the Kennecott copper mine in Alaska and smoke jumpers in and out of Missoula, Mont. He later founded, then sold, the Vancouver Island Helicopter company.

But Mr. Boeing’s business interests were broader than aviation.

In the 1950s, he imported Volkswagen cars to the Northwest. Because Volkswagen did not want to establish dealers at that time, Mr. Boeing bought the cars in Germany, then imported and sold them himself.

That same decade, Mr. Boeing helped establish hydroplane racing in Seattle. His hydroplane, named Miss Wahoo, won the 1959 President’s Cup race in Washington, D.C.

In the 1960s, he began building commercial warehouses and business parks in the Kent Valley. And he went into the broadcasting business, buying several radio stations.

Over the years, Mr. Boeing served on various boards of directors in Seattle, including at First Interstate Bank, Safeco, Pacific National Bank and Western Bancorp. He was a trustee at Seattle University and chairman of Aldarra Management, his commercial real-estate holding company.

A staunch conservative, Mr. Boeing also served as campaign manager for the state of Washington for Reagan in his 1980 run for the presidency.

Last year, Mr. Boeing donated $1.5 million to help fund the expansion of Seattle Children’s hospital. A trust he set up will continue his philanthropy after his death.

A link to Boeing’s founder

In 2012, the Museum of Flight hosted a 90th-birthday celebration for Mr. Boeing, attended by many veteran Boeing executives and representatives of other pioneering aviation families.

Sporting a blue 787 cap and the owlish glasses that were his signature, Mr. Boeing moved around that evening in an electric wheelchair and spoke of his father and the family legacy.

He recounted how Bill Boeing Sr. was bitten by the aviation bug in 1914 when he took his first airplane ride.

“He sat on the leading edge of the wing, holding onto the struts. It was the only place (a passenger) could sit. There were no seats,” Mr. Boeing Jr. said.

His father’s career in aviation was cut short in 1934, when government antitrust regulators broke up his burgeoning company into units that later became United Technologies, United Airlines and the Boeing we know today.

Boeing Sr. intensely resented the breakup. He left the company, sold his shares and spent the rest of his life owning horses, yachts and real estate and making money in the stock market.

“Father was very disappointed with the politics,” Mr. Boeing Jr. said.

Mr. Boeing Jr. recalled fly-fishing with his father in Duncan Bay on Vancouver Island that summer of 1934, using lures they made from polar-bear fur.

Mr. Boeing’s first wife, Marcella Cech, died in 1990. His only son, William E. Boeing III, died in December 2013.

He is survived by his second wife, June; his daughters Gretchen Boeing Davidson (Leigh) and Mary Rademaker, both of Bellevue, and Susan Boeing of San Francisco; his stepdaughters Sandy Barnard (Brad) of Seattle and Cindy Abrahamson (Scott) of Edmonds; and by 15 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Seattle Times researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this story, which also includes material from Seattle Times archives.