William L. Smallwood

Noted Idaho author and educator William L. Smallwood, 91, passed away Dec. 19, 2021, in Twin Falls, Idaho.

Born in Missouri and raised in Iowa, he joined the Air Force out of high school. While in the Air Force he completed college and got his teaching certificate. Bill was recruited to Idaho in the mid 1950s to teach science at Mountain Home High School. His progressive teaching ideas while doing a short stint at the Idaho State Department of Education attracted an invitation to write a sixth-grade science textbook. Bill started using early-morning hours to write that, then other textbooks, while continuing to teach biology at MHHS. His 1967 textbook for high school biology and 1969 textbook for seventh-grade life science became national best-sellers.

Two new passions emerged in the late 1960s. One was aviation. Promoting his books meant visiting school districts all across the U.S., and it quickly emerged that piloting his own aircraft was the most effective way to do that. As he infiltrated aviation culture, over thousands of hours of flying, he made contacts that changed the course of his writing. Now moved to Sun Valley, Bill shifted his focus to nonfiction writing in the 1980s. The Air Force Academy Candidate Book kicked off a series of how-to guides that have been used for decades by entrants to the nation's main service academies. "Warthog: Flying the A-10 in the Gulf War" and "Strike Eagle: Flying the F-15E in the Gulf War" became Military Book Club features in the 1990s. A biography of fellow pilot and former Idaho Sen. Jim McClure appeared in 2007. "Valor, Guts and Luck," his last work, completed at age 84, told a B-17 tail gunner’s survival story of combat, imprisonment and The Black March of Allied POWs in the closing winter of World War 2. Bill was proud to have published 29 books in his career.

The rich Basque culture in southern Idaho also became a life-changer. In Idaho bars, sheep camps and classrooms, Bill learned to converse in Basque. His Basque friends anointed him with the Basque name of Egurtxiki. From the late 1960s, he envisioned a fictional story of Basque immigrants to Idaho and an American rancher who witnesses the Basque experience in the Spanish Civil War. Over four trips and 12 months living in various regions in the Basque Country, primarily Gernika, he began to dig into the background for his novel and work on his fluency in Basque. Under the pretense of revising a science textbook, he actually worked with the Basque Underground to interview living survivors of the bombing in April 1937 of the Basque spiritual capital of Gernika, an atrocity that shocked the globe in its day. Transcripts of 124 such interviews, mostly conducted by Smallwood in Basque at substantial risk to participants, were smuggled out of Franco's Spain. The novel, written in the late '70s, was never published. But those interviews became the basis of "The Day Guernica Was Bombed," published in English, Spanish and Basque in 2012. Bill returned to the Basque Country in 2012 and again in 2017 as a guest of the Gernika Peace Museum to speak (in Basque) at commemorative events marking the 75th and 80th anniversaries of the bombing.

Bill Smallwood had a rich civic life, serving on the City Council in Mountain Home, and on the Moritz Hospital board in Sun Valley. An avid golfer, Bill spent many an hour practicing and playing. He was a long-time member at Los Caballeros in Wickenburg and Clear Lake Country Club in Buhl. Later in life he had a lot of fun implementing a summer reading program for kids in the Buhl School District. While living in Sun Valley, he befriended Tillie Arnold, a legendary figure in the early history of Sun Valley and a particularly close friend of Ernest Hemingway. This eventually resulted in their cooperative book "The Idaho Hemingway."

Smallwood shared time late in life between Wickenburg, Arizona, and the Magic Valley area of Idaho. He is survived by his second wife, Patty Smallwood, and a son, Eric Smallwood, both of Twin Falls, and three children by his first wife, Claudine (d. 2020), Bill Smallwood of Las Cruces, New Mexico, John Smallwood, of Cincinnati, Ohio, and Julie Kaiser, of Mill Creek, Washington.