William Robert Shell died peacefully in Wilmington, NC on January 6, 2024 after several years of declining health.
Bill is survived by a daughter, Elizabeth S. Bashore and husband, Rob Bashore, and grandchildren Lilly Bashore and Davis Bashore, all of Charlotte, NC; a sister, Jane Moore of Hickory, NC and several nieces and nephews, as well as his first wife, Lynda Shell of Wilmington. Bill was predeceased by his wife Kathy C. Shell, his faithful canine companions, Buster and Bucky, his parents Lee Roy and Martha Shell, and a brother James L. Shell.
Bill was born on June 5, 1943 while his family was living in the small town of Hudson, NC, about halfway between Hickory and Lenoir. At age six, the family moved to Hickory, where his father was employed by the Southern Railroad and his mother was a registered nurse at Hickory Memorial Hospital. He attended and graduated from the public schools in Hickory in 1961. While in high school, Bill earned eleven varsity letters in football, basketball, and baseball and was president of his class for four years. Upon graduation from high school, he entered the University of North Carolina (now UNC-Chapel Hill) and graduated in 1965 with degrees in political science and economics. While at Carolina, Bill was a member of Air Force ROTC and upon graduation, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force. In 1967-1968, Bill flew 152 combat missions over North Vietnam as a member of the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing based at Takli Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand. He was awarded the Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with 13 Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Vietnam Service Medal. After completion of his Air Force service, Bill returned to Chapel Hill and entered the University of North Carolina School of Law, graduating in 1973.
Upon graduating from law school, Bill moved with his family to the Wilmington area where he practiced law until shortly before his death. Although varied in scope, Bill’s practice was primarily criminal and civil litigation in the state and federal courts, as well as before state and federal administrative agencies. He was admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, the United States District Courts for the Eastern, Middle, and Western Districts of North Carolina, the United States Claims Court, and the United States Tax Court. Bill was known as a fair, but forceful, litigator and was a fierce advocate for the underdog when the occasion called for it. He did not particularly care for either big business or big government and relished the opportunity to hold both to account.
After arriving in Wilmington, Bill became active in historic preservation and the revitalization of downtown Wilmington. He was president of the Residents of Old Wilmington. In the late 1970s, he, along with a small group of other dedicated people, formed Downtown Area Revitalization Effort, Inc. (DARE), now Downtown Wilmington, Inc., to revitalize the commercial area of downtown Wilmington. Bill incorporated and organized DARE and obtained a 501(c)(3) tax exemption for DARE, the only development corporation in the United States with such a tax designation at that time. That tax designation enabled DARE to become financially viable and to establish a revolving loan fund when downtown landowners would convey their property to DARE, receiving a tax deduction, and DARE would sell the property to new owners to rehabilitate the property and to generate funds for use in downtown revitalization. Bill was a board member of DARE, and president, as well as volunteer legal counsel for years at a time when DARE had significant legal work to perform. Not long after DARE was formed, Bill and another small group of people began Riverfest, and Bill incorporated Old Wilmington Riverfront Celebration, Inc. and performed volunteer legal services for that organization as well. The first Riverfest was planned beginning in July, and a group of dedicated individuals had it operating by the first week in October of that year. Throughout all his years in Wilmington, Bill continued to be an advocate for historic preservation in his adopted hometown.
Being from western North Carolina, Bill was a “Mountain Republican” and after coming to Wilmington, he became active in the Republican party. He worked for years to build a party which had essentially been decimated in the 1970s. Bill was an advocate of a strong two-party political system. He served as chairman of the New Hanover County Republican Party, as well as the 7th Congressional District. During Governor Jim Martin’s administration, he was one of North Carolina’s three representatives on the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council. He also served on the New Hanover County Board of Elections. However, if Bill could speak to you today, he would tell you that the present-day GOP is an abomination, almost completely devoid of the values for which it once stood. After several years of watching the GOP shift further and further to the right, and finally entering into a full gallop to the right, Bill became a registered Independent. His views on the present state of the Republican party, in particular the authoritarian dictator formerly in the White House, were well known to his friends and colleagues.
Bill was a voracious reader and acquired over the years an extensive personal library. Bill loved to travel as well, especially to the Caribbean Islands. He was an avid Tar Heel fan and enjoyed many fall Saturday afternoons with friends watching football in Kenan Stadium.
Bill was a longtime member of St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, where he served as president of the church council, chairman of the pastoral call committee, an usher, a scripture reader, and in other positions. He served as St. Paul’s coordinator for the Wilmington Interfaith Hospitality Network, now Family Promise, a ministry to homeless families. Bill was also a Trustee for Lutheran Services for the Aging, now Lutheran Services Carolinas, which owns and operates retirement villages, assisted care and nursing home facilities, adult day care centers, and other services for older people in the Carolinas. For many years, Bill attended the early service at St. Paul’s. He loved to come early and sit in his pew, enjoying watching the light come through the beautiful stained-glass windows. He said it gave him a sense of peace that he never experienced in any other place in the world.
A memorial service to celebrate Bill’s life will be held at St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, 6th and Market Streets, Wilmington, North Carolina on Saturday, January 20, 2024 at 11:00 AM with Jonathan P. Conrad, Senior Pastor officiating.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that you make a donation to St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church or the New Hanover Humane Society at the links above at “Memorial Gifts and Donations”.
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Wilmington Funeral & Cremation 1535 S. 41st Street Wilmington, NC 28403.