Roy Duff

John Frederick reports . . .

Some of you never had the chance to meet Roy Duff because he hasn’t been to his cabin on Moose Creek for a long time. He died November 14.

When I saw Roy Duff, he used to say in a high-pitched voice out of the side of his mouth opposite to the cigar, “How the hell are you John.” This was his standard greeting.

Roy had a long busy life and I thought you might like to read about him.

Obituary from the Daily Inter Lake, November 23, 2008 . . .

Roy M. Duff, 88

Roy M. Duff, proud World War II veteran, longtime business owner, former mayor of Whitefish, and dedicated servant to the community he loved, passed away in Whitefish on Nov. 14, 2008.

Roy was born in Steptoe, Wash., on Oct. 30, 1920. The family moved to Whitefish shortly after Roy was born. As the son of a railroad employee, Roy enjoyed his early school years, hiking, fishing, picking huckleberries on Big Mountain and as the privileged only son, loved driving the family car. With lifelong friends he thoroughly enjoyed the mischievous pursuits of youthful exuberance. Roy took great pride in working at Cooke’s Grocery in Whitefish and the Kalispell Bee newspaper. He worked two summers in the Roosevelt era Civilian Conservation Corps and graduated from Whitefish High School in 1938. In 1939 he joined the Montana National Guard.

The ominous events in Europe that year resulted in Roy’s entire local National Guard unit to be sent to the west coast for training at Fort Lewis and Camp Murray. Roy trained as a medic. His unit defended the west coast from Dec. 7, 1941, to mid-March 1942, and at that time he was sent to the South Pacific to help defend Australia from the advancing Japanese forces.

As part of the 41st Division 163rd Infantry, Roy was part of three major Southwest Pacific campaigns under the command of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. In horrific jungle conditions, Roy participated in frontline action at Sanananda, Aitape, Wakde, Hollandia, Biak, Zamboanga and Jolo. Roy was wounded during a bansai attack at Toem beachhead on the night of May 28, 1944; as a result of that action, Roy was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star. He received a battlefield commission and after a period of recuperation, rejoined his unit in the Philippines. He was scheduled to be part of the home island invasion of Japan, but was spared almost certain death by the circumstances of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He was one of the very first soldiers to enter Hiroshima after the atom bomb was dropped. Roy’s unit was deactivated from the Kure shipyard in December of 1945.

Upon returning to Whitefish, Roy acquired a taxicab business and developed it into a diversified passenger transportation company. He owned the local Chevrolet dealership for some years, operated a tow service, an ambulance service, interstate bus schedules, shuttles in Glacier National Park and transfers from Glacier International Airport and Amtrak to the Big Mountain Ski Resort. Over a five decade period, he provided employment to hundreds of people. The school bus operation he developed has been in continuous service to the Whitefish School District for more than 60 years. The Hertz Rental Car franchise he brought to the Flathead is recognized as the oldest Hertz franchise in the United States. The business he founded continues to operate under the name of Rocky Mountain Transportation, and in his final days he made inquiries to the current management if it was operating properly and exclaimed, “It damn well better!”

Roy took great pride in his community. The list of civic organizations that he did not belong to was probably shorter than the ones he did. He was a rural mail carrier, brand inspector and on occasion, a special deputized deputy under the authority of legendary Sheriff Dick Walsh. He served over 20 years in the Whitefish Volunteer Fire Department and also served on the Big Mountain Board of Directors for 30 years. He served as a Montana State Highway commissioner longer than any commissioner in the state’s history and initiated the original proposal in getting the present Big Mountain Road on the commission agenda. He was one of the original promoters of the Whitefish Winter Carnival and was proud to be selected as King Ullr X in 1969.

After being a city council member, Roy was elected mayor of Whitefish in 1955 and served two terms. His office and home at 15 Central Ave. was the unofficial city hall. He, but probably more frequently his Australian bride, Norma, answered all the police and fire calls at night from that home office. All kinds of official meetings were held both day and night. Under his mayoral leadership a flurry of activity took place and much was accomplished. Pay for parking meters were installed in the downtown area, and new equipment was acquired for both the police department and street department, resulting in better service to the community. At the urging of resident Mable Engelter, the library was greatly improved. A city planning commission was created, a new post office was established, and with a little fiery encouragement from the state of Montana, plans for a new sewage treatment plant were put in place. City Hall was remodeled and given a facelift, meaning all the gorgeous original brick was covered with new stuff. That stuff, is mostly, still on the building.

He was widely recognized as the unofficial beer drinking champion of Whitefish and heavily supported the makers of Olympia Beer in the ’60s and later in his life, Miller Light. He learned to smoke while in the military and reportedly, ate at least five Roi Tan cigars each day for the majority of his years. Though confined to a care center for the last three years of his life and suffering a stroke some weeks ago, he asked for assistance in swabbing his dry mouth with a beer-soaked sponge on a stick in his final hours.

Roy enjoyed his horses and different dogs he owned throughout his life. He made many pack trips through the Bob Marshall Wilderness in summers. In the fall, you could count on him packing into his back country elk hunting camp with longtime friend and Chief of Police of Whitefish for many years, George Wartnow. Of the eight-horse string, necessary to pack all the gear, two horses were always designated to carry the beer.

Roy loved his country, the camaraderie of the armed forces and shared the bond known only to those who face death in battle. Throughout his business and public career, he remained loyal to the highest ideals of America and the spirit of capitalism. He was the driving force that established the formation of “A” battery of the 163rd in Whitefish, served on the state staff of the National Guard in Helena and promoted the formation of National Guard units across western Montana. He spearheaded the drive to acquire land on the east boundary of Whitefish to establish a training center for the 163rd and through his contacts with Sen. Mike Mansfield, procured the funds necessary to build an armory and community center at that location that now bears his name. He remained active in the Montana National Guard for more than 40 years and retired with the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Roy was preceded in death by his wife and business partner of more than 50 years, Norma Doreen Wassman, whom he met and married in Australia.

He is survived by his sisters, Eva DeVall and husband, Bill, Nova “Billie” and husband, Glen Johnson, of Whitefish, and Norma “Pee Wee” Brzoznosski of Spokane; sons, Mark and wife, Lynne, and Dale and wife, Diane, of Whitefish; grandchildren, Kevin Duff of Whitefish, Amanda Caldwell and husband, Mike, of Columbia Falls, Scott Duff, Sean Duff and wife, Kyla, also of Whitefish, and Shelby Geyer and husband, Greg, of Calabasas, Calif.; three great-grandchildren; and numerous nieces, nephews, and an extended Australian family on Norma’s side.

Funeral services will be held at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 25, at the Whitefish United Methodist Church, with Pastor Deborah Schmidt officiating. Burial will follow at the Whitefish Cemetery with graveside honors by the United Veterans of the Flathead.

Arrangements are under the direction of Austin Funeral Home of Whitefish.