Vail Valley local Bill House was ‘A man for all seasons’

Brenda Himelfarb
Special to the Daily
Bill House moved to the Vail Valley to live the western lifestyle with Nancy Lipsky.
Photos Special to the Daily

If you look up the definition of “a man for all seasons,” you will find two explanations: a man who is successful and talented in many areas; a man who is ready to cope with any contingency and whose behavior is always appropriate to every occasion. A third definition could be “a man named Bill House” for Bill was all that and more.

Even if you didn’t know Bill, there’s no doubt that if you had seen him around town, you would’ve remembered. He’s the one who’d probably be wearing a pink shirt, bandanna around his neck, a unique Western belt buckle and cowboy boots. What’s more, he had a buoyant head of hair that was the envy of women, as well as men. And then there was the big greeting he gave to everyone he met, as though each was his best friend.

In another time, Bill might have been called a “dandy.” And he would have loved the title. His closet was filled with boots, buckles, shirts, fringed jackets, all sorts of Western accouterment to complement his “look.” This dandy, who grew up in Bay City, Michigan, then lived in Detroit before moving to Palm Beach, eventually moved to Vail to be with Nancy Lipsky, the love of his life, and was soon totally enveloped in a Western lifestyle: ranch, horses and a golden Lab named Shylow at his side.

Bill graduated from St. Mary’s College in California and attended Harvard’s Executive Business Program. He was the CEO of his family-owned trucking company, Rex, in Bloomfield, Michigan, before becoming a trucking company consultant in Florida. But when Nancy was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1989, Bill dropped everything and moved to the valley to care for her.

And with that move came Bill’s entrepreneurial spirit. Bill, the man with a love for clothes, recognized the need for more than one dry cleaner in the area. And so, National Velvet Cleaners — with its pink and black horse, iron and hanger logo — was born in a small space in the West Vail Mall with Bill doing it all: cashiering, cleaning, spotting and delivering.

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“I was his first seamstress,” said Nancy, with a laugh. “Someone Bill knew walked in and needed his pants shortened, but Bill had no seamstress. However, he had built a small dressing room with a place for a sewing machine, so he measured the pants and told the guy he’d ‘get right on it and that they’d probably be ready tomorrow.’ Which they were. He brought the pants home to me to hem.”

National Velvet soon expanded to Edwards, where it was the first business to open in The Riverwalk of Edwards, and then to Avon, Eagle and Summit County. The business grew so quickly that, according to Nancy, their 4,000-square-foot plant was “filled from day one.” The company was sold in 2012.

Although always on the go, Bill still took time to enjoy the mountains he so loved. He skied, hiked, rode horses and, for a while, enjoyed his Harley, a gift from Nancy for his 50th birthday. But one of his favorite “activities” was schmoozing, for which he had a gift.

Be it friend or stranger, there wasn’t anyone who met Bill who didn’t comment on his big smile and warmth. He was a good listener, one of those people who truly cared about others and was always willing to lend a helping hand. And, it is this geniality that all those who knew him will remember.

“In addition to being so good looking, no matter what, he was always a gentleman and very kind,” said Joshua Saslove, his friend of almost 60 years, who now lives in Aspen. “To show you what kind of friend he was, I was in a private plane crash in 1976 and when I got out of the hospital, Bill had made arrangements to have someone take me up in a plane and fly the same flight pattern because he always talked about ‘getting back up on the horse.’ Bill was the best.”

“When Bill came into the restaurant, he made the room lighter,” said Doug Abel, owner of Juniper, in Edwards. “He had a favorite table, a favorite seat where he could watch folks that came in. He was a kind of an ambassador, in a way, and was a dear friend. Bill had a presence that was not only genuine, which is important, but he was positive and uplifting and people were happy to see him.

“He always looked great. His hair was always perfect. And he was always dressed to the nines. He’ll be missed. There’s no question.”

These days Nancy and Bill’s home is filled with people reminiscing and celebrating Bill with all sorts of memories of the dude from the east, who embraced the Western lifestyle, while adding a touch of a pink.

Shylow, though, misses her buddy. She still sits by Bill’s chair but now nudges Nancy when it’s time for her 5:15 dinner.

Bill’s life will be celebrated when the snow melts.

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