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Bill Anderson speaks to the press during a protest in front of the Butte-Silver Bow courthouse. Photo provided by Bill Anderson

By Paul F. Vang

For ButteNews.net

Bill Anderson, a long-serving member of Butte-Silver Bow’s Council of Commissioners, just won reelection to a fourth term on the Council.

I’ve known Bill for many years, going back 30 years, when he was a student at Montana Tech and a member of the Tech Circle K Club, and I was a Kiwanis advisor to the club. Circle K International is a college/university affiliate of Kiwanis International.

I thought I knew Bill, but when Butte News publisher Jim Larson and I got together with Bill for this profile, we learned that he struggled to get to this point of life. Bill is a big bear of a man, but he has a tender—and ailing heart.

Bill, age 50, was born in Salt Lake City, where his father, a career Army officer, was stationed.  His parents are both Montana natives; his father from Helena and his mother, born in Butte, grew up on a Sheridan-area ranch. After his father completed military service the family moved to Butte, where Bill graduated from Butte Central High School.

Bill started at Montana Tech in 1991 but dropped out in 1993 to join the U.S. Army Reserves. The Army sent him to cooking school and then dietary school. He jokes, “I learned to make good food taste like hospital food.”

Subsequently, Bill worked for an engineering firm in Denver, Colorado. He worked at Fort Harrison in Helena, then returned to Denver, where he worked as a car salesman. He finally came back to Butte, to help on the family ranch and to be closer to family, and re-enrolled at Montana Tech.

He also had a secret.

At the age of 9 or 10, he’d been sexually abused and was seriously scarred by the event. He struggled with depression. He had trouble with relationships, and often felt suicidal. He relates one day at the ranch; he went to an outlying cabin on the ranch to shoot gophers. “I took along a .22 rifle and a .357 handgun. I was going to shoot some gophers and then I was going to shoot myself. Then I realized that my brother would be coming out and I didn’t want him to have to deal with something like that.”

While he struggled with this, as well as working and going to college, he started to feel tired and run down. He went to a doctor who told him, “You need to go to the hospital. You have cancer.”

He recalls going to his car, got in and, before starting, lit a cigarette. At a stoplight, he lit a second cigarette, and when he got to the hospital, lit a third. Then he stopped and thought, “I was just told I have cancer, and I have three lit cigarettes. That’s probably not good. I threw them all away.”

Bill was life-flighted to Seattle, where he underwent chemo and radiation therapy. A nurse, an Havre, Montana native, counseled him that patients with a positive outlook do a lot better.

Looking back on the cancer experience, he remembers a lot of pain, “But it changed my life. I’m so much better than I was before. I decided I really wanted to live.” Bill has been cancer-free for 19 years.

Back in Butte, Bill elected to not return to Tech, but did get a job at Park Street Liquor. He also considered getting into politics, one of his long-term interests. In high school he went to Boys State, plus volunteered in some political campaigns.

The Commissioner in his part of town was Mike Sheehy, and in 2010, Sheehy suggested that he run to replace him on the Council. Bill won election and was reelected in 2014 and 2018 without opposition. In 2022, he had five opponents in the primary. He survived the primary, but in September, long before the election, Bill had a massive heart attack, followed by additional heart attacks. He spent a week in a coma in a Seattle hospital, and “coded out” some five times. A long-time fan of the Denver Broncos, Bill ruefully notes that, “The only time the Broncos have done well this season was when I was in a coma.”

Bill survived and was able to return home to Butte in mid-October, and in November, won reelection to the Council of Commissioners.

As Commissioner, Bill says that his phone is always ringing. People have complaints about barking dogs, people not shoveling snow from sidewalks, parking issues, etc. He laughs and says he’s developed a thick skin over the years. “If I had a dollar for every time, I’ve patted myself on the back for doing something, and then have someone chew me out for the same thing, I could have retired a long time ago.”

Bill asserts that politics, especially at the local level, has a huge impact on our lives. “People don’t pay attention to local politics. They worry about what Biden (or Trump, or Bush, or Obama) is doing, but decisions by Commissioners will have a bigger impact. We vote on water rates and property taxes, and whether roads get fixed.”

Bill has long served on the Judiciary Committee and considers the passage of an anti-discrimination ordinance for Butte-Silver Bow one of his proudest achievements, as it made Butte the second city in Montana to enact the measure. Butte, along with Missoula and Helena are still among the few cities in Montana with these laws.

 One of the things he likes best about his office is, “I can yell and scream. I have a soapbox. I can do things. If I see problems in our community, I have my soapbox.” It isn’t always easy. “Sometimes I leave meetings upset and frustrated. Then I get over it.”

As a long-serving member, he says he tries to be a good mentor to new members, and as he prepares to begin a new term, “I feel honored and blessed that people have trusted me to represent them.”

As to Bill’s early scars, after years of difficulty with relationships and suicidal thoughts, he’s had counseling, which has helped. After years of hiding secrets, he’s willing to talk about what happened, and he hopes that his example will help others.

Bill is still a bachelor, though he is in a long-term relationship and considers himself as almost father to his partner’s children.

Bill said his health is a continuing issue, and a heart/lung transplant may be a possibility, though he says his heart condition is improving and he’s beginning an exercise program.

“I look forward to what the next four years will be.”