SUNRISE, Fla. - The Florida Panthers are mourning the loss of William 'Wild Bill' Caldwell, a beloved figure within the organization and father of Panthers President & CEO Matthew Caldwell.
Wild Bill passed away on May 10, 2020 at the age of 77 following a brief illness.
"Everything started from a sense of love, always putting the family first," Matthew Caldwell said of his father. "He might've been chaotic and wild in his process, but it always came from a place of love. I always thought he was immortal. The Panthers were basically a second family to him."
A staple of Panthers games ever since Matthew was hired as the team's Chief of Staff in 2014, Wild Bill was known throughout the organization for his big heart, infectious smile, and larger-than-life personality. He was not only a great storyteller, but also the inspiration for many tales.
"All of our parents have some quirks about them, but Wild Bill had a lot of them," Panthers Chief Operating Officer Sean McCaffrey said. "They were all packaged perfectly. Everything he did created this beautiful, enduring story of a man who was always helping others and making sure everyone else around him was okay."
From ushers to upper management, Wild Bill spent much of his time at the arena getting to know countless staff members throughout the organization. He had an incredible interest in learning the ins and outs of every department and left an indelible mark on many of them.
"He meant a lot to all of us," McCaffrey said. "Almost everyone had some sort of relationship with him. I think that speaks volumes about him. Rarely do you see someone able meet, converse, and develop a genuine relationship with as many people he did within our organization."
Of course, Wild Bill was also one of the biggest Panthers fans around.
"He would get here early on game days," McCaffrey said. "He loved eating in Club Lexus. If there was a free giveaway, he'd always make sure to load up on that. He'd always be having fun… He was a fan first and foremost. When the puck dropped, he was enthralled in the games, banging on the glass if he could and wore his emotions on his sleeve after a tough loss or big win."
In addition to his fandom, Wild Bill also held an unofficial position with the Panthers.
The story goes, as Matthew tells it, that not long after he was hired by the organization, he was sitting alongside Panthers owner Vincent Viola as the Panthers hosted the Boston Bruins on the ice below. The building was absolutely packed, and there wasn't a single free seat to be found.
But, despite the raucous crowd, all Viola could think about was the one fan that was missing.
"Vinnie turned to me and said, 'Hey, didn't you tell me your father was coming tonight? Where's Wild Bill?'" Matthew said. "I explained to him that he was up watching from upstairs because we wanted to free up as many seats as possible. I was thinking about revenue, filling all the seats."
Viola was having none of that.
Soon after that conversation, Viola had the Panthers create an ID badge, much like the ones that the team's employees wear for Wild Bill. From then on, Matthew said his father became somewhat of an unofficial mascot for the team, actively lifting spirits among the staff and fans.
"He wore that with pride," Matthew said. "He wore that everywhere. He wore it on the outside of his shirt at all times. He lived up to the badge in every way shape or form. He ran around the arena and acted like an owner.
"He greeted fans and talked with people. He made corrections where he had to. He helped out with parking, helped out with the ushers. Whatever he could do, he was a positive influence. He was great for morale."
During the 2016-17 season, Wild Bill was also part of the franchise's first-ever Fathers Trip.
"Bill was a one-of-a-kind personality who was embedded in our organization," Panthers President of Hockey Operations & General Manager Dale Tallon said. "He was a proud father who showed endless support to Matthew, the Panthers and the South Florida community.
"A gracious, determined and kind man, Bill was someone who loved being around the team and games at BB&T Center. On road trips, he may have been the happiest person on our team charter. His energy was infectious and his presence will be sorely missed."
In 2013, Matthew compiled many stories surrounding his father in the self-published book: Wild Bill: The Legend of America's Craziest Father. Through this collection of short stories, which are set everywhere from New York to Kosovo, he gave his father's epic legacy a permanent home.
With nearly 1,000 copies already sold on the Amazon Marketplace (copies of the book can be found here), all proceeds from the publication go towards college funds for Wild Bill's growing list of grandchildren, including Matthew's infant daughter, Flora, who was born last November.
"I'm so happy and proud that we did that as a family," Matthew said of the book. "I did a lot of the writing, but the family helped me out, and Wild Bill provided all of the content. It's amazing, especially now, to have that to give to my daughter so she has the stories is really great."
As the Panthers continue to reflect on Wild Bill's incredible life and impact in the week's leading up to Father's Day on June 21, the organization feels honored to have played a role in his story.
"It was amazing to see how many people he touched," Matthew said. "He was a powerful force of a nature, a larger-than-life guy. He was always looking to help people and better their lives."