Bill Mash always had a project going Chico loses an activist and story-teller who gave the unhoused a voice

by Natalie Hanson
posted Dec. 5

Eric Mash remembers how his father, Bill “Guillermo” Mash, always had projects underway. So when his father told the family that he had decided to move to Chico and write about homelessness, no one was surprised.

photo by Karen Laslo
Mash at KZFR radio station where he produced programs.

“He fell in love with Chico,” Eric said. “He just had this passion and fire within him to help others, and to always love and care about everybody. He did everything on a bicycle … helping the homeless, helping all the causes.”

Chico writer, radio personality and tireless advocate Bill Mash is being remembered by the Chico community as many friends and loved ones mourn his sudden death last week after a heart attack on Nov. 19.

Many who knew and loved him held a vigil for Mash on Nov. 20. Now they are sharing memories and offering support for his family who say they removed him from life support so he could die peacefully.

Mash -– who nicknamed himself “Guillermo” — was best known for his “Without a Roof” project, producing video and a radio show as he interviewed people living unhoused in Chico and published their stories. A short man with a big smile who carried belongings everywhere as he pedaled his bicycle through Bidwell Park, Mash was a fierce advocate for people without shelter and anyone facing dire straits.

photo courtesy of Karina Mash
Mash with daughter Karina.

Karina Mash of Lincoln, Calif., confirmed her father’s Nov. 29 passing after many members of the community began posting their condolences for and stories about Mash.

“You were such a giving man who always thought about others before yourself,” she wrote. “As much as I am still in shock that you left us yesterday, I know that you are no longer in pain or suffering and that comforts some of the worries I constantly had for you over these past 11 days. I love you so much Dad and can’t wait to join you someday up in heaven.”

Mash was also known for his “Imagining Community” shows on radio station KZFR. His writing and interviews were unmatched in the community for his ability to treat every subject with empathy -– meeting them where they were with a nonjudgmental spirit so they could tell their stories.

He was born June 29, 1960, in Methuen, Mass., and leaves behind siblings Jesse and Dillon Mash of Massachusetts and Tennessee, and sister Ellen Federico and mother Margaret Ann Sigmon of Hernando, Fla.

Mash served in the U.S. Navy from 1982 to 1984, then worked at Apollo Computers and Hewlett Packard until 2012. He married Lili Aram-Bost in 1988 and moved to Rocklin, Calif. Eric Mash was born in 1992 and Karina in 1995. Bill and Lili divorced in 2005.

photo courtesy of Karina Mash
Mash with wife Lili and daughter Karina.

His children said they remember a happy childhood with their father in Rocklin, taking trips to amusement parks to ride roller coasters and enjoying “daddy dates” at Dairy Queen. In those days, Mash loved golf, hiking and his sports teams — the Boston Celtics and the Boston Red Sox, Karina Mash said.

Karina said her father decided in 2012 to take an early retirement, and one day decided to sell most of his belongings and hitchhike to Chico.

“He was a very giving man, especially after he moved to Chico,” Karina said. “He didn’t have a lot of money but he was pretty remarkable.

“Any money he did have, he would just give it to others, like for food and shelter. I remember him going to Enloe (Medical Center) and other hospitals and sitting with people who were homeless and didn’t have any options. He was very selfless, and he never really thought about himself -– he was always out on his bike or walking to help others.”

His father knew Chico like the back of his hand, and became deeply invested in the community and politics, said Eric Mash, who now lives in Oil City, Penn. Mash was also a gifted storyteller, and loved to hear a good story, be part of a story, or best of all, be the one telling a captivating story. Some of his storytelling appeared in ChicoSol as video reports.

“It amazes me, the ever-growing list of things he was a part of,” his son said. “He would get one thing started up, and then he would move on to the next thing and the next thing. He was able to help so many people and get so much done in such a small amount of time, just 10 years.”

photo courtesy of Karina Mash
Mash as a young father.

Many also say Mash left an immediate mark on them from the first time they met him thanks to his positivity, sense of humor and care for others.

“He was the type of person that even if he didn’t like you, he loved you,” Eric said. “Even if he didn’t agree with you, he still heard you out. He wasn’t in it for the notoriety or accolades, he did it all because it was important to him. And he left a lasting impression on everyone he met.”

Dillon Mash agreed: “I always looked up to my older brother Bill as a child. He always had a smile on his face and a positive outlook on life. No matter who you are or where you came from, he would listen intently to you.”

Mash’s Chico family has spent the last week sharing their memories of him, often using the hashtags “whatwouldBilldo and “bemorelikeBill.” Advocate Chris Nelson’s Peace and Justice Program on KZFR held a 90-minute slot Friday for callers to pay tribute to Mash.

“I have never seen such connections as Bill made in this community,” Nelson wrote in her announcement posted online Thursday. “He knew everyone and he cared about everyone. We all saw it and recognized what a blessing he was to each and all of us.”

Robyn Engel wrote in a post on the Facebook group Team Chico-Paradise, “Bill/Guillermo Mash embodied all that’s exceptional about Chico.

“In fact, he MADE IT happen, he spotlighted it, he lifted to prominence the people and sentiments that are most relevant. Bill brought sorely needed attention to the human suffering that we see daily, and that most simply ignore and/or further denigrate.”

Charles Withuhn of North State Shelter Team remembered conversations with Mash on his front porch while Mash sheltered two unhoused people in his apartment.

“Bill was about being a better human,” he said. “We talked about spiritual ethics, community, rewarding activities that make you feel warm inside, to know the gratitude of the folks around you, what it must mean to be civilized.”

Chico advocates think that Mash would not want the goal of helping others living without to end after his passing, Withuhn said.

“The hateful words and hurtful actions we have seen lately in our community contradict our pledge, ‘with liberty and justice for all,’ and call us all to a more empathetic and a more effective response,” he said. “Providing shelter for all now is 10 times less expensive than the sweeps and more in line with our spiritual ethics. It is what Bill would do.”

For those who wish to help, a fund to support the Mash family has been set up on GoFund Me here.

Natalie Hanson is a contributing writer to ChicoSol.

This story has been corrected to state the date of Mash’s passing as Nov. 29. His organs were not donated, as previously stated, as that had become impossible.

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