William "Coach" Fairbanks was born May 8, 1935, in rural Spring Lake, Michigan. His dad was a bandleader who encouraged him to be musical, but young Billy met Tom Mix and Katharine Graham in the 10-cent theater and, moving to Hollywood in the early '50s, he consummated his love for movies. Bill and school pals (LeConte Junior High and Marshall High) snuck around nearby studios nightly, climbing gates and scrambling down studios' Main Streets with security chasing them. Bill found religion briefly, becoming Youth Leader at Hollywood Presbyterian Church. He and a friend then joined the Marines, where he learned to spit, smoke, swear, and slap cards for a fast game of bid whist on the slow ship bound for Korea. There, he patrolled the DMZ (MOS 0311, 0331), again scrambling over fences and getting chased by a regiment of Chinese Army. Back at Camp Pendleton, Bill commanded more youth as a Marine Corps drill instructor (MOS 8511) at MCRD and called cadence loud enough to shake strong men in their boots. In 1958, he started at UCLA, studying PE/kinesiology, earning a teaching degree while working as a post office driver, a Van de Kamp's fry cook and a swimming instructor. He was hired to teach PE at Palms Junior High and later transferred to Venice High, where he became the Coach Fairbanks we all know and love. Generous, warm, kind, and empathetic, he coached basketball, baseball, golf and swimming and chaired the PE department. Vividly memorable with his shaved, shined skull, Bill was best known as a football coach who earned the respect of his players and colleagues. Coach also spoke eloquently, and was renowned for his ability to tell a story. He could tell one a dozen ways in a row and be funnier each time, and he often held court in a roomful of people. Coach proudly was a charter member of UTLA who could still tell us scornfully who scabbed in 1970. He thrived on progressive media, embellishing his Obama hat with "Proud to Be a Liberal." A lifelong golfer, he gave up the 5 AM starting times in his late 60s for league bowling. With vast help from son Erik, he braved the computer to start the "Banks Bombers," transforming into an insatiable fantasy football player who wouldn't wait for the drafts; he learned how to mock draft. At 73, he started his twice-weekly, never-missed Pilates sessions. To the end, his doctors complimented him on his strength and agility. He married his "beautiful green-eyed lady" Wendy in 1972 and lovingly helped raise her son Erik Pedersen and her younger sister Kellie Flanagan. Coach leaves a bereft family, including Wendy, Erik and Kellie; sister-in-law Jill Flanagan; brother-in-law David Briley; daughter-in-law Susan Pedersen; his beloved niece Clara Fairbanks Flanagan Briley; and grandsons Ian, Tyler and Gavin Pedersen. Brother Terry Flanagan (Laurie) and their sons Terry (Rebecca) and Pat. Coach Fairbanks died peacefully in Santa Monica. We feel him in the air. A public "storytelling memorial" will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 4, at the Venice High School auditorium. The Venice Alumni Association has established a scholarship in his name.
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Published in the Los Angeles Times from Apr. 27 to Apr. 28, 2013