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William T. Pearl, 85, contractor with passion for airplanes

Jan. 25, 1933 – Aug. 13, 2018

The son of a plumber, William T. Pearl ran his own plumbing and heating business for 30 years in Hamburg.

But he had a passion for airplanes, both flying and building them.

In 1981, a Christen Eagle aerobatic biplane he constructed from a kit, won the Experimental Aircraft Association Wright Brothers Award in 1981 and was recognized as the best home-built aircraft in the nation.

The Wright Brothers Award was presented to him at the Dayton, Ohio, Airfair by the niece of Wilbur and Orville Wright. His biplane earned a listing at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum and won numerous other awards, including the Calspan Trophy for a reserve champion custom-built plane at the 1983 Niagara Falls AirShow.

Mr. Pearl died Aug. 13 in his Hamburg home after a battle with lung cancer. He was 85.

Born in Nova Scotia, he was a 1951 graduate of Hamburg High School and attended the University at Buffalo, earning an associate’s degree in business administration. He served in the Army from 1955 to 1957 and was stationed in Japan.

He established his own business, William T. Pearl Plumbing and Heating on Camp Road in Hamburg, in the early 1960s. Specializing in residential and commercial projects, he operated the firm until 1993, when he retired.

His daughter, Rebecca Lenard, said he also served as a mentor to those entering the trade.

“All the young men who went to work for him are plumbing contractors today,” she said.

A member of the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce, he served on its board of directors in the 1970s.

Mr. Pearl was a flying enthusiast who performed aerobatics and was a member of the Ancient and Secret Order of Quiet Birdmen, an invitational club of accomplished aviators.

He owned a succession of small planes and built aircraft. A J-3 Piper Cub he built won an antique grand champion award.

He also owned a succession of classic cars and, in the early 1980s, he rebuilt a 1951 Rolls-Royce automobile from parts.

“He bought a junk Rolls-Royce and dumped it in the driveway,” his daughter said. “He said, ‘I’m going to build it back to beautiful.’ And it was beautiful. We all cried when he sold it.”

His wife of 53 years, the former June P. Mumbower, who revived the Hamburg Holidays celebration and was the 1991 Hamburg Woman of the Year, died in 2012.

Survivors include another daughter, Wendy Merkle; two brothers, John and Douglas; and four grandchildren.

A open house to pay tribute to him will be held at 6 p.m. Aug. 29 in J.P. Fitzgerald’s, 4236 Clark St., Hamburg.

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