William E. Grader, founder of Bill’s Auto Parts chain

William E. Grader

William E. Grader, 89

The race is finally over and the track is empty as William (Bill) Eugene Grader left this world, not to the thunder of racing engines, but the quiet whisper of his last sleeping breath. Born on February 22, 1929 in Colgate, Oklahoma of immigrant parents, he passed away quietly at his Edmonds home on March 17.

His family moved to Seattle in 1939, where he graduated from Ballard High School in 1946. Then, followed his service in the US Navy Reserve, stationed at Sand Point Naval Air Station, where his genius with engines first became apparent. Many a Corsair fighter plane was kept flying due to his skills with a wrench. He was also noticed, arriving in style, ready for duty in his customized 1936 Mercury hot rod, “The Little Jewel,” which was the subject of a six-page spread in HOT ROD magazine.

The 1950s were a busy time for Bill. His marriage to Nina Jill Sibley in 1952 produced three sons, and a daughter. Jumping into the business world, he and his partner, Orville Roupe, formed Precision Engines. Moving to Lynnwood in 1958 he established the Bill’s Auto Parts chain, which was a regional fixture for decades and survives to this day as a custom machine shop run by his son Jim. The racing bug bit Bill hard and he formed a partnership with hydroplane boat builder, Paul Edgar. Together, they created the famous Misty series of 225 hydroplane race boats that held numerous world records and two national championships. Overheard at a race, “Why are you so sure Misty IV is going to win today?” “Well,” Bill said, “they’re putting her in the water, aren’t they?”

After surviving a dramatic flip driving the original Misty hydroplane, he decided to hang up his helmet and leave the driving to others. The 1960s and ’70s were a golden age of racing. Bill was everywhere, both on the water and on the track. He created a line of racing motors for dirt track racing called Thunder Engines, which added more records and trophies to his collection. Business was booming so he started Jobbers Supply, an automotive warehouse. Bill was becoming an avid pool player and world tourist, visiting many countries including the Soviet Union. Working to resolve a land use issue, Bill became a self-taught lawyer and personally fought a series of legal battles, one of which is still used as a case study.

In retirement, he continued his interest in restoring classic cars, building race engines and renovating his home, but it was his love of billiards and poker games at the Ballard Eagles that kept him energized.

In all his business dealings, he was known for honesty and fairness while always delivering a first-class product. This is evidenced by third-generation Bill’s Auto Parts customers. A kind and easygoing father whose idea of discipline was, “Don’t make me have to tell your mother,” he impressed all those around him with his reasonableness and fundamental sense of decency. His keen intelligence, skilled hands, and profound work ethic will be missed. He is survived by four children, five grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his sister Jeannine, brother, Don Henry and two wives, Nina and Edith.

A celebration of Bill’s life will be held Sunday, April 15. The potluck will be from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Edmonds Senior Center, located at 220 Railroad Avenue.

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