Willard `Bill' Fenton, all-around sports leader

Willard "Bill" Fenton, a demanding and charming athletic director at Seattle University before he coaxed winning efforts from Washington Athletic Club players and Seattle fast-pitch softball teams, generated a buzz before professional sports came to town.

He worked in football, basketball, tennis, skiing and golf. But in softball, he excelled at developing and driving his players.

"He was a gentleman, and commanded respect," said former SU basketball center Joe Pehanick. "When he wanted a timeout, he didn't yell or jump around. He just made the signal quietly."

But Mr. Fenton also knew when and how to pour on the heat.

From the mid-1950s through the mid-1970s, his softball teams, including Federal Old Line Insurance, Mead-Samuel Realtors and Pay 'N Pak, won 1,200 games.

His Federal team snagged the regional Amateur Softball Championship several times and was often in the national top 10. Federal placed fifth in one world tournament where it also earned a Good Sportsmanship award.

In 1973, Mr. Fenton was named Man of the Year in Sports by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He also was a member of the Amateur Softball Association Hall of Honor.

Mr. Fenton died March 17 of cancer. He was 76.

A Seattle native, he played sports in school and incurred a hip injury that later precluded his joining the military.

He graduated from West Seattle High School in 1941. He earned a bachelor's degree in economics at Seattle University in 1946, and was elected speaker at his graduation ceremony.

At SU, he worked up from graduate manager through freshman basketball coach and golf coordinator to athletic coach.

In 1955, he became an assistant manager at Washington Athletic Club (WAC). He also began managing fast-pitch softball teams.

"Back before Seattle had pro sports, fast-pitch was a big thing and people followed the teams a lot more closely," said his son Brooks Fenton of Des Moines. "He really liked winning."

Mr. Fenton held several WAC positions, including director of athletics, until his retirement in 1988. He came to know hundreds of important business and professional people and "could hardly get away in the evening, so many people there always stopped him to talk and shake hands," said his son.

Also surviving are his wife of 31 years, Martha Fenton of Seattle; his children Jeffrey Fenton, Jocelyn Partlow and Mead Fenton, all of Seattle; Susan Delaco of Vancouver, B.C.; and Synette Melluzzo, Rainier, Thurston County; a brother, Lowell Fenton, of Sun City, Calif.; seven grandchildren and a great-grandchild. His son Sean Fenton died in 1996.

Services have been held.

Remembrances may go to the Willard Fenton/101 Club Fund, c/o Seattle University Development Office, 900 Broadway, Seattle, WA 98122; or to Fauntleroy Church, 9260 California Ave. S.W., Seattle, WA 98136.

Carole Beers' e-mail address is cbeers@seattletimes.com