Bill Covey, 90, passed away on Jan.13, 2019, in Kalispell, with the love and support of his family after suffering a stroke.
He was preceded in death just two months ago by his beloved wife, Ruby Gene.
Bill was born in Missoula on Jan. 18, 1928, the youngest of eight children who all preceded him in death. He grew up in Missoula and graduated from Missoula County High School. Bill joined the U.S. Forest Service in 1944 at the age of 16, working for three seasons as a fire lookout on Kenelty Peak located between Kalispell and Libby. In the fall of 1946 he joined the U.S. Army and was sent to Japan. In 1947 following his honorable discharge, he returned to the Forest Service as a smokejumper based in Missoula.
He worked as a smokejumper for six seasons from 1947 to 1952, jumping out of DC-3s on fires in Montana and Idaho. At the time of his death, he was among a handful of “jumpers” living into their 90s. During the winter months he enrolled in forestry school at the University of Montana, going to school on the GI Bill. He earned a bachelor’s degree in forestry in 1952 and rejoined the U.S. Army as a counter intelligence officer in Wash-ington, D.C. He was discharged in 1955 and returned to the University of Montana to earn a master’s degree in forestry. After working for Bob Helan Logging and running a Christmas tree business, he began work for the U.S. Forest Service in 1959.
His first job as a forester was in Seeley Lake and he was stationed at numerous locations throughout Montana, Idaho, California and Oregon over the course of his 25-year career. During this time he was a district ranger, forest supervisor and he retired from the Forest Service as the director of timber management for the Northern Region based in Missoula.
Bill married Ruby Gene Smith in 1953 after growing up together as neighbor kids in the Rattlesnake Valley in Missoula. They were married for 65 years before Ruby Gene passed away on Nov. 9, 2018.
After retiring, Bill and Gene moved to Flathead Lake where they built a home. Later they moved to Kalispell where they lived the last 20 years. Bill spent his entire life pursuing outdoor activities including hunting, fishing and camping at every opportunity. He was a passionate supporter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation as a volunteer and seldom missed an Elk Foundation banquet. Until the age of 89, he camped every hunting season in a wall tent with his son Mike. The perfect day of hunting included toasting sandwiches on a lunch fire or finding the ideal Christmas tree, which was always too far from the road to carry home for the holidays.
Hard work and physical activity were the foundation of Bill’s life. Until a week ago he was shoveling snow and living independently at his home while taking great care of his beloved schnauzer Tyke.
Bill, “Grandpa,” was cherished and admired by his grandchildren. He instilled in them a great love of the outdoors and they spent many summers together at Bitterroot Lake. His grandson Charlie wrote today, “We lost a legend. My Grandpa was one of my first heroes and a shining example of integrity and dignity in this world.” — A sentiment that is shared by many.
Bill is survived by his son Mike (Stacy) Covey and grandchildren Charlie, Camden and Harrison; daughter Carmel (Richard)Knowles and grandchildren Michael (Alycia) and Andrew, and great-granddaughter Maiya.
There will be a private burial service at St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery in Missoula.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation or a local humane society.
Friends are encouraged to visit the website at www.buffalohillfh.com to leave notes of condolence for the family. Buffalo Hill Funeral Home and Crematory is caring for the family.