Bill Pierce, a retired college librarian and well-known master gardener who answered hundreds of horticulture questions in The Bee's Home & Garden section, died Thursday of cancer, his family said. He was 80.
In phone calls, letters, public presentations and over-the-fence conversations, Mr. Pierce was widely consulted for his expertise on gardens. Growers ranging from backyard novices to professionals turned to him for advice that was well-researched, easy to follow and earnest.
"Bill was extremely humble, so gentle and so willing to learn and teach," said Judy McClure of the University of California Cooperative Extension master gardener program. "He didn't preach; he shared information."
Mr. Pierce was certified by UC as a master gardener in 1995 after completing 50 hours of classwork and passing a test. As a retired Sierra College library dean, he was skilled at research. But he picked up much of what he knew firsthand from a 2 1/2acre garden at his Orangevale home, where he spent at least six hours a day nurturing a diverse selection of trees, shrubs, vines and plants.
He volunteered a total of 4,050 hours and staffed the phones at the Sacramento County Cooperative Extension office every Thursday morning since 1995. He created presentations on yard topics and spoke to almost every garden club in the region.
With an encyclopedic knowledge and sense of humor, he answered hundreds of questions sent to The Bee's "Garden Detective" column since 1992.
"I will never forget his reply to a reader who wanted to know if squirrels could have kidnapped her garden gnome," said his daughter, Milissa. He said, "Why, did they leave a ransom note demanding peanuts?"
William Robert Pierce was born in 1931 in Los Angeles. He began gardening at age 10, when his father gave him a gardening encyclopedia that was a lifelong resource.
He served in the Army, graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, and earned master's degrees in history and library science from the University of Southern California. He married his wife of 49 years, Sue, while they were both high school teachers in Los Angeles and settled in Orangevale in 1964.
He worked a year as a librarian at American River College before spending 26 years at Sierra College. He was instrumental in adding televised courses to the curriculum and retired in 1991.
Mr. Pierce belonged to a citizens group that drafted the Orangevale Community Plan in 1966. He served on the Sunrise Recreation and Park District board and was a 4-H leader for many years.
He was a devoted grandfather who enjoyed catching lizards, looked "the other way when his prized peonies and irises were gathered for bouquets," and cheered loudly at swim meets, his daughter said. He also traveled to more than 50 countries.
"He had me trudging through gardens all over the world," his wife said. "He just loved plants."