William Daniel "Sonny" Bishop, Sr., aged 97, passed away peacefully at his home on the Indian River Lagoon on June 11th. A true gentleman to everyone he knew, Sonny lived life to the fullest. Born in Birmingham, Alabama on April 21,1923 to Wilmer Daniel Bishop and Webster Edward Bishop, Sonny moved to Florida when he was three years old. From that time forward, Sonny spent his days exploring the natural beauty of Florida, riding his bike around Orlando as a child and eventually exploring the land on foot, by boat and airplane. To the end of his days, Sonny worked to enhance, protect and preserve the world around him.
After graduating from Orlando High School in 1941, Sonny attended the University of Florida, pledged Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity, and "double majored in fishing and hunting." He then attended The Citadel Military College in Charleston, South Carolina where he decided to enlist in the Armed Forces and became a United States Air Force pilot trained in single engine aircraft. During World War II Sonny flew P-51D Mustang Fighter Planes in the Pacific Theater with the 460th Black Ram Fighter Squadron based on the island of Ie Shima in the Okinawa Islands.
After the Japanese surrender on September 27, 1945, Sonny had the distinction of being the first pilot to land his P-51D Mustang on Japanese soil. His military orders in Osaka were to take over the management of one of Japan's luxury hotels, the Takarazuka, which gave him a love of management, real estate and business. A few years ago, Sonny's son, Ron, had a business meeting in Osaka with the son of a Japanese woman Sonny had provided milk to when he was a baby. Sonny said he helped the young Japanese mother because he felt that if his wife and baby were in the same position, he hoped an officer from the foreign country would do the same thing. Sonny's life is filled with stories of such kindnesses and personal resolve.
Sonny married Joyce Perdue in 1944 and they had two sons, Ron and Bill. After returning from World War II, Sonny inherited his father's business, Bishop Office Furniture Company, which was founded in 1937 and became Orlando's oldest office design and furniture dealer selling to large corporations and businesses throughout Florida. Sonny sold Bishop Office Furniture to Corporate Express, Inc. in 1997 which allowed him time to enjoy his varied interests.
After becoming a widower at the age of 52, he was introduced to Betty Kennington Reeves of Vero Beach, who was also widowed in 1977. The couple married in 1982 and spent thirty-seven years happily traveling the world and spending time at their homes in Vero Beach and Maitland, Florida, Burlingame Country Club at Sapphire Lakes, North Carolina and Sonny's beloved 7,000 acre hunting camp in Holopaw, Florida.
Throughout Sonny's life he was a community builder. He served as a member of many corporate boards including Southeast Bank. Florida Governor Haydon Burns appointed Sonny to the Florida Development Commission along with Florida legends and friends, Dick Pope, the founder of Cypress Gardens and Bill France, the founder of the Daytona Speed Way. Sonny assisted Walt Disney in the purchase of real estate which would eventually become Disney World. Through various land deals, purchases and syndications throughout Central Florida, Sonny worked to improve the Orlando International Airport, International Drive and Downtown Orlando.
For many years Sonny was an active member of The Country Club of Orlando, The University Club, Interlachen Country Club in Orlando, Burlingame Country Club at Sapphire Lakes and Old North State Golf Club in North Carolina and Quail Valley Golf and River Club. Sonny formed the initial real estate deal to create Old North State Club in New London, North Carolina and was a founding member of Burlingame Country Club at Sapphire Lakes in North Carolina, both premier golf clubs with courses designed by Tom Fazio. Most recently Sonny assisted his grandson William (Billy) Daniel Bishop, III in creating Heritage Club, a hunting and social club on over 23,000 acres. Sonny also worked with the Wounded Warrior Outdoors
where he made many friends.
Sonny was a man of many talents. He flew his Cessna float plane around Florida. He hunted and fished from the Yukon in Canada, Texas, Colorado and back to Florida. Sonny owned numerous boats including his favorite Hatteras, "The Cutty Sark," and even built his own speed boat. In his 50's Sonny took up watercolor painting and his paintings of animals and birds are so life-like it seems their fur and feathers are moving in the breeze. Every day of his life, Sonny loved creating, building and inventing things like retrofitting his Polaris into a moving tree stand, the famous "Hasty Pasty" toothpaste holder and his deer skin drink koozies are family legend.
Sonny is survived by his wife Betty Bishop and step-daughter Emily Reeves Tremml (Glenn), his sons Ronald Daniel Bishop and William "Bill" Daniel Bishop, Jr. (Janie), grandchildren Carol Bishop Sears, Shannon Bishop Carbone (Nick), William Daniel "Billy" Bishop, III (Jen) and William Reeves Tremml. He is also survived by eight great-grandchildren, Kyle, Zach, Hayden, Wyatt, Luciana, Colton, Tanner and Leighton.
Sonny Bishop was a man among men, and a champion of everyone he loved. His many friendships were created and sustained with his strength of character and sense of fun.
At Sonny's request there will be a celebration of life held by the river with the people he loved as soon as the time is right. What Sonny's loved ones know to be true, is that he is a man who made the world around him kinder, stronger and more beautiful. We are blessed to know him and our lives are made better by him being in this world.
In lieu of flowers, donations are welcomed at the Wounded Warrior Outdoors
or the Indian River Land Trust.