Bill Hayton's Key - by Jack Martini (last manager of KPH)

This story is about former KPH manager William Noel "Bill" Hayton and his personal McElroy telegraph key.  Life dealt Bill some tough times.  But through it all he was dedicated to KPH as one of his last acts showed.


Bill, ever curious about how the telex staff operated, had a very addictive tobacco habit. He always had a cigarette in his mouth, and one day, he stood behind me while I was punching up telegrams for transmission, and a hot ash from his cig. dropped on my shirt and set it on fire. This irritated me a bit as you might imagine. So, I kicked him out of the telex room, and didn't talk to him for a couple days. He moped  around in his office, and finally came into the telex room and asked me to come into his office. With tears in his eyes, he said to me: "Jack, please don't be mad at me. I think of you as the son I never had." Keeeerist, did I ever feel like a heel. I put my arm on his shoulder and said I was sorry too, and told him he shouldn't smoke so much. At that time he had a 5 pack a day habit, 3 at work and 2 at home.

Bill and I didn't have a boss, employee relationship, we were a team. He asked me to read everything that came into the station, and had me read his outgoing memos for suggestions or corrections. He had a beautiful narrative style of writing and certainly made his points with clarity and style. Bill was a tragic figure of sorts. He had custody of twin daughters, and one day while he was at work, his sister who was baby sitting the girls, called him and advised one of the twins had fallen down the stairs and died.

He recovered from that tragedy and married his second wife Alice, who raised the surviving twin, Patricia, as well as her two sons, Rusty and Danny. When FG retired, he sold his Novato house to Bill, and moved to a retirement community in Walnut Creek. Unbeknown to us, Alice had a heart condition that required valve replacement surgery. The surgery, done in 1975,  was apparently successful, but when Bill told me that she had to sleep sitting up. I told him to get her back to the cardiologist asap. As I recall an appointment was made. But in the meantime, Bill and Alice along with Ray Smith and his wife Lena, made a trip out to Bolinas to see what was availble before Commonweal moved in. Ray noticed Alice was having trouble going up the stairs to the 2nd floor, and shortly thereafter, Alice collapsed and passed away from heart failure. This occured in 1976, and Bill went through a lengthy period of grieving which was understandable.

The next thing we know, Bill was admitted to the hospital with severe pneumonia. He was in Novato General for several weeks, and during that time, managed to quit smoking. When he came back to work, he wasn't the same man. Alice was his life, and without her, Bill appeared as a depressed, beaten individual.

One evening in 1977, Bill called me at home and asked if he and Patricia could come up to Petaluma to talk to us. He came in and sat down, and almost immediately he asked me if we could continue running the station without him. He said he just didn't have it in him to continue the battle. He had called WM and I think RC as well. So, WNH retired, he sold the house in Novato, and he, Patti, and her little boy Willie all moved to Redding. We kept in contact by phone for the next year or so until the sad report from Patti that her dad had terminal esophagal cancer.

Bill Gibbons and I drove up to Redding to see WNH for the last time. He was completely bald from the chemo treatments and was extremely thin and had difficulty walking. At this meeting, I was the one with tears in my eyes. He, Bill Gibbons, Pat and I  chatted for a couple of hours during which he lamented his lifetime addiction to tobacco, but said why now, after all the effort he had made to quit smoking during his bout with pneumonia.

As we were about to leave, WNH said "Wait a minute Jack, I have something for you". He came out with his McElroy Key and his Blue Racer, and said, "I'll give these to you if you swear you will use them, and keep the station on the air as long as possible. I swore that I would, and I did. I did  the best I could to live up to my oath to the second mentor of my life. As we drove out of the driveway, I looked back and saw him waving goodby. I waved back and mouthed to him, I love you Bill. That's the last time we saw the kind and gentle man, William Noel Hayton.
And through the NPS, the MRHS, and especially you RD, the legacy continues.
Best regards,
Jack Martini (DM)

Richard Dillman (RD) writes:

When Jack presented WMH's key to me for preservation by the MRHS and told me the story behind it, it was a tremendously moving moment.  I felt that some sort of torch was being passed and it was now up to us to be true to Jack's oath and to carry on as WMH would have wanted us to do.

The key was still in its original wooden box that had been modified into a carrying case.  I carefully removed it and plugged it into the key jack at Position 1 at KPH.  Just after the Silent Period I sent a short commemorative message of 500kc followed by SK... and silence.

The key has remained in safe storage since then.  Unlike other keys of former KPH operators that are in frequent use, there is something about this particular key that's different.  It's a symbol of sorts, a symbol of how much a profession can mean to a man and as such we keep it apart from the other keys as an object of veneration.

Richard Dillman,
Chief Operator, MRHS

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