Bill Painter holds the record for the oldest person to summit Mount Rainier.

Share story

The first time Bill Painter reached the summit of Mount Rainier, he was in his 70s.
The second time, he was even older — 81 and five months.
That climb in the summer of 2004 was record-breaking, making the Richland man the oldest person to have stood atop Washington’s highest peak.
The next year, Painter broke his own record when he reached the summit at age 82.
The next year, he did it again.
At age 84, he made his final Rainier summit, busting his own age record yet again.
That record is still believed to stand today.
“It’s nice to call him a tenacious guy. But in our family, we’re just stubborn,” said Mark Painter, one of Painter’s four children. “That was his key to climbing mountains. He just kept putting one foot in front of the other until we got to the top.”
A giant in the Tri-Cities outdoor community, Bill Painter died earlier this week at age 93.
In keeping with his wishes, there will be no funeral. But a celebration of life is 3 to 6 p.m. June 19 at Events at Sunset, 915 Bypass Highway, Richland.
Painter was born in Logan, Utah. His love of the outdoors took hold early, and he spent many hours as a boy exploring the nearby Wasatch Range, his obituary said.
In the spring of 1942, he enlisted in the Army and saw combat in Europe and Africa. “He was on Okinawa in preparation for the Japanese invasion when the war ended,” his obituary said.
After returning to the U.S, he and a friend took a trip to Washington.
“In Richland, they found that the Hanford barracks were being demolished, and they worked at that and other jobs for several months,” the obituary said.
They’d intended to travel to Seattle, but Painter fell in love. He and Evelyn Caldwell, a Richland High alumna, married in June 1947.
Painter spent nearly 40 years working at the Hanford site, largely as an instrument technician. He retired at age 62 as maintenance manager of the Plutonium Finishing Plant.
An athlete in his younger days, Painter took a bit of a break during some of his working years. “He had long, hot days (at Hanford). So when he got home, he was pretty tuckered,” Mark Painter said.
He also wanted to spend time with his love, Evelyn.
But eventually, he got into running and cycling, doing both competitively. He helped start the Chinook Cycling Club and was a state champion cyclist.
In the late 1990s, Painter got serious about mountain climbing, trekking with his son David to Mount Everest’s base camp and climbing to the top of nearby Kala Pattar at 18,208 feet.
In 2000, Bill celebrated New Year’s by climbing 21,200 feet up Argentina’s Aconcagua.
David was with him on that trip, too. “I spent a lot of tent time with my dad,” the son said.
Bill Painter loved the outdoors, but it was the interaction with people — the time spent outside with them — that he really loved, David Painter said.
“He loved people and he enjoyed being with people and being active with people,” David said. “For him, it was the people who made it worthwhile.”
Mike Robinson, a longtime friend and co-founder of Chinook Cycling Club, said Painter was a role model, especially for seniors.
“Bill was an example of what you could do. He was valuable to the cycling community and the community as a whole. He’s set an example that will hold for a long time,” Robinson said. “People have done more and gone farther because Bill set a path to follow.”
Bill was a fixture on Badger Mountain, hiking it more than 2,300 times for more than 1 million feet of elevation gain.
He also was well-known in high school sports, spending years officiating and helping at games and meets.
Mark Painter said his father was quick to help others, mowing a neighbor’s lawn for years, for example. But “he never wanted to take anything from anybody.”
And he didn’t love attention, even after his Rainier feats.
He liked his quiet life, Mark Painter said.
“He wasn’t a politician or a professional athlete,” Mark said. “He was a good man. He took care of his family.”
Painter’s survivors include his wife, Evelyn, and kids Mark, Vicki, David and Nancy.
In lieu of flowers, people are asked to make a donation to Friends of Badger Mountain at or PO Box 24, Richland 99352.