In Memorium – Bill Exley (1920 – 1994)

In Memorium – Bill Exley (1920 – 1994)

Captain William (Bill) Mills Exley (January 08, 1920, Vancouver, BC –  April 24,1994, Victoria, BC) was a friend to all the lighthouse keepers he met. Bill joined the Coast Guard as a mess boy on the Estevan in 1939 and retired 45 years later as District Area Supervisor (DAS), Victoria. He was a tough boss but was respected by all who learned from him. See his biography below. Bill’s ashes were buried at sea.

To include your memories in Bill’s memorial please click this link.

Bill was Second Mate on the old “smokey joe” CGS Estevan under that legendary master mariner, Capt Harry Ormiston (1889-1971), when I joined the (then) Victoria District Marine Agency as the (then) Superintendent of Lights in June 1956, a post I held until Oct 1959. His seamanship, acquired and polished during his many years of sailing with Harry, was absolutely superb, a true credit to his mentor. Among my happy, solid memories of Bill was his skillful handling of the Estevan’s sturdy work boats then used to take supplies ashore at lightstations, often in heavy seas. (No choppers in those days). Not once in my time did he ever misjudge the swells, damage a work boat, or dump its cargo in the water. Nor did he ever cause me to be dunked when I used to jump from the bow onto wet slippery seaweed-covered rocks when doing an annual lighthouse inspection – or when scrambling back on board afterwards.

Captain Exley, as he was when I last met him (his guest for lunch on the CGS Sir James Douglas while visiting Victoria in 1964), was a man I greatly admired and respected – as he was indeed by the lightkeepers who knew him and the ships’ crewmen who served with him. It was my privilege to have known him, enjoyed his friendship and sailed several thousands of West Coast nautical miles with him. – John Bathurst


Bill’s first love might have been the sea..,but as superintendant of Lights he soon became an avid helicopter passenger and particularly liked low flying.

As pilots we had a wonderful rapport with him and consequently we made every effort to comply with his numerous requests and I for one appreciated the fact that he never pressured us to fly when we considered for instance that the weather precluded flying, but he expected us to give it a try if conditions were marginal, and that was fair enough.

One example was when he “desperately” wanted to interview and eventually fire a troublesome assistant lighthouse keeper at Pine Island lighthouse. As we both approached Pine the usual summertime band of fog was really heavy (Pine was calling it 1/4 mile visibility), below our limits, but we headed out hover taxying you might say, riding the swells, the sea being my only reference. Our only concern being that we might bump into a ship!

Anyway we made it, picked up the assistant and headed back through the same soup, saw a hole in the fog climbed like an elevator and rode several miles back to Port Hardy on top of the fogbank.

On arrival there Bill Exley turned to me and said “Let’s never do that again!” It was pretty hairy all right. – Ivor Roberts (aka Ivor the Driver)


– thanks to Karen Waugh for the bio

I always considered Bill Exley a Leader! – retlkpr

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Retired (2001) British Columbia lighthouse keeper after 32 years on the lights.

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