Bill Hart, a former Sonoma County personnel director and longtime YMCA board member, died of mesothelioma Tuesday at his Santa Rosa home. He was 90.
A gracious and refined man, Hart served for 36 years as county personnel director, first in Orange County and then in Sonoma County from 1973 until his retirement in 1986.
In 2008, he was honored for his contributions to the Sonoma County Family YMCA, which Hart credited for helping him rebound from a crippling illness in his late 60s.
Hart also was praised for his public service, with former county supervisor Tim Smith calling him "one of the most respected department heads the county has ever had."
Former supervisor Helen Rudee in 2008 recalled the twinkle in Hart's eye and the sense of him "being comfortable with himself, in control of what he had to do."
Doctors told Hart he would never walk again after he was paralyzed — and left in constant, excruciating pain — in 1991 by an inflammation of his spinal cord nerves due to an unknown cause, said Jean Hart, his wife of 68 years.
"There were quite a few days that he could have just said, 'Forget it,'" she said in an interview five years ago.
With therapy and his family's support, Hart stood, then walked and finally returned to his routine of working out with weight machines at the YMCA.
In 1993, the couple returned to their travels, and Jean Hart said: "We walked over a lot of the world after that."
A Sacramento native, Hart interrupted his education to join the Navy in 1943, serving as a pilot at bases around the United States during World War II.