William ‘Bill’ Fender, 81, pursued his real first love of jazz guitar after retirement

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William Fender
William Fender

William ‘Bill’ Fender, 81, passed peacefully Sunday, May 22, 2016. Born and raised in New York City to the late Joy Jones Fender and William Fender II, he also briefly lived in Sea Cliff, Long Island.

Bill is survived by his beloved wife, Lynne; children, Valerie, Chris (Nancy), Scott (Alison) and Neil (Lucianna); and seven grandchildren, Paul, Michael, Christian, Kelli, Kolby, Jack and Chloe. He adored them all, and was especially proud of his children’s character and accomplishments. Bill was a man of integrity, humility, compassion and respect for others.

Bill enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1957 and was selected for an elite, Mandarin Chinese immersion language program at Yale University’s Institute for Far Eastern Languages (IFEL). He trained to become a translator of Chinese pilots’ radio traffic. Upon completion of his U.S. Air Force tour of duty, he stayed on at Yale’s IFEL for another six years to manage new U.S. Air Force Mandarin students, class schedules and their professors and instructors. He lived in New Haven for a total of 10 years.

In 1968, Bill (and family) was brought to Washington, D.C., to design and program the first-ever computerized Mandarin/English dictionary, with funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The dictionary has since been used by millions of researchers, academics and business people. In the D.C. area, he worked for decades as a systems analyst and programmer for Chase, Rosen and Wallace (CRW), and then for Northrup after they bought CRW.

His clients included the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Transportation, Central Intelligence Agency and Department of Defense. In 1995, Bill retired from that career to pursue his real first love – jazz guitar. A lifetime enthusiast of jazz history and musicians, he created a Web-based company called Legato Guitars, whose motto was ‘Keepers of the Flame.’ Bill bought and sold previously owned and brand-new archtop, acoustic jazz guitars to customers around the world. Among buyers of previously owned instruments, he developed a reputation for the highest level of integrity regarding his assessment of their quality and condition. Among the independent luthiers he represented to sell their brand-new instruments, they were honored to have him carry their guitars.

In 2005, when Lynne retired, she and Bill moved from their Alexandria home to Wilmington. Here, Bill continued managing Legato Guitars until 2011. In Wilmington, Bill was a member of the Cape Fear Jazz Society and served on its board for several years. Bill and Lynne rarely missed a Friday night jazz concert in Airlie Gardens, nor the annual North Carolina Jazz Festival. He was a devoted volunteer tutor with the Cape Fear Literacy Council, tutoring both native English speakers in reading, math, and sciences, as well as his most recent tutee, for whom English is her second language.

A celebration of Bill Fender’s life is planned by his devoted wife and children for September; a specific date will follow.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the UNCW, Music Department, Jazz Program or to the North Carolina Jazz Festival.

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