VIRGINIA BEACH — Retired Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Bill Plackett died Friday. He was 78.
Plackett was the sixth to hold the position, which leads enlisted sailors. He grew up on a farm in Paxton, Ill., and enlisted in 1956 at 19. He had been enchanted by watching sailors return from World War II, his daughter, Julie Plackett, said Monday.
"He was in love with the romance of it all," she said.
Bill Plackett attended radarman school in Norfolk and was assigned to the Persian Gulf and Naples, Italy, according to a Navy news release. Plackett advanced to chief petty officer in 1967 and served two tours on the aircraft carrier Forrestal. He graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in vocational education from the University of West Florida in 1972.
Plackett took over the Navy's top enlisted job in 1984. He pushed to make leadership training for command master chiefs more accessible and for equal opportunities for women throughout the service, with a focus on eliminating sexual harassment. He also was an advocate for Navy families and hosted, along with his wife, Karen, the first spouse conference to focus on quality-of-life issues, according to the Navy.
"Bill was instrumental in tackling some of our Navy's most challenging issues," current MCPON Mike Stevens said in a Navy release. "If legacy is the lantern that lights the path for others to follow, there is no doubt in my mind that Bill's path shines brightly today for all sailors."
The Placketts returned full time to Virginia Beach after his retirement in 1988.
Retired Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Duane Bushey followed Plackett's service. Plackett represented a change from an era in which the top enlisted sailors "had to be tough," helping to usher in a more sophisticated force, Bushey said. He could talk with sailors on deck and then jump in his car to do the same with four-star admirals in Washington.
Karen Plackett said her husband loved golf and was deeply involved in his community. The couple, who were married 53 years, met at a school dance in eighth grade.
During his time as master chief petty officer of the Navy, Plackett loved to go out in the hallway at the Navy Annex where he served in Washington and talk to young sailors. Karen Plackett said those young sailors were "probably scared to death" when her husband would ask, "What would you like the Navy to do for you, son?"
Plackett's son, Brian, followed in his father's footsteps and enlisted in 1988, a few months before his father's retirement. Brian Plackett retired as a chief petty officer in 2009.
He joined because of the people "he exposed me to and their true love of the Navy," he said.
Julie Plackett remembered how each year on Christmas, her father would surprise her mother with new jewelry that he'd tuck in his bathrobe pocket.
"He always said it was because he was too lazy to wrap it," she said. "I always thought it was magical."
A public visitation is scheduled from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at Graham Funeral Home in Chesapeake with a celebration of life scheduled for Friday at 1 p.m. at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, Brian Plackett said. He will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery.
Plackett also is survived by two other children, Richard Plackett and Cheryl White. He has seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.