Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites


Famous door-to-door salesman became a household name

Bill Porter inspired an Emmy-winning movie starring William H. Macy Porter died Dec. 3 in Gresham


by: OUTLOOK FILE PHOTO - Pill Porter, shown here in this 2003 photo, died in Gresham on Dec. 3. When Bill Porter died in Gresham on Dec. 3, he left behind an inspirational story and a family that loved him as one of their own, even though they weren t related.

Porter was born with cerebral palsy, but overcame his physical limitations to become one of the most successful door-to-door salesmen in the country.

His life story was depicted in the TV movie Door To Door,  which starred William H. Macy and won six Emmys, said his friend, Gresham resident Shelly Brady.

Brady also wrote a book about Porter titled Ten Things I Learned From Bill Porter  and toured with him on motivational speaking tours.

Porter, who lived in Gresham for 10 years, was born in 1932 in San Francisco, Brady said, but his family settled in Portland, where he grew up. By the time he finished high school in the 1950s, the state of Oregon told Porter he was unemployable and he should just stay home and collect a check.

He said no way,  he didn t want to do that,  Brady said. He said he always felt like he could contribute something to society, and he wanted to work. 

It took a while to get work, and Porter finally persuaded the J.R. Watkins Company, which sold groceries and household items, to give him a chance in Portland s West Hills, the company s worst territory. He eventually became Watkins  top door-to-door salesman, Brady said.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Shelly Brady, right, with her daughter Emily, talks about her long time employer and friend, Bill Porter who died recently. Watkins has been around since 1868, and he s broken every record they ever had,  Brady said.

Porter couldn t drive or ride a bike, walked with difficulty, had little use of his right arm and had trouble speaking, but it was his drive to succeed and downright stubbornness that saw him through, Brady said.

He said that his mother was the biggest influence in his life because she told him that he could accomplish anything he wanted to if he set his heart and mind to it,  Brady said.

Instead of carrying samples, which were too heavy, Porter carried photos of his products, and although his mother initially helped him, eventually he hired people to do his office work and make deliveries.

Shelly Brady started working for Porter in high school but eventually went off to college, got married and started having babies. But she later went back to work for Porter because they just seemed to click.

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: PORTER FAMILY - A photograph of William H. Macy, Shelly Brady and Bill Porter. Macy played Porter in the film, Door to Door. I think he met his match in the stubborn category when he met me, and for whatever reason, we just hit it off,  she said.

Working for Bill included not only deliveries, but housework, laundry, paying bills and grocery shopping and became a family affair, Brady said, with the kids helping out and putting money they earned into a college fund.

That all began back in the early 1980s, she said, and Bill had been a member of their family ever since, with Christmas Eve as a celebration that always included him.

Then in 1995, The Oregonian did a story on Porter that caught national attention. ABC s news magazine 20/20  also featured him, as did Reader s Digest, and the phone calls started coming from independent film producers, Brady said. They settled on Robert King because he grew up in Portland.

Later Brady found that King had actually met Porter when he was a little boy.

Bill came to the door when Rob was 4 years old and his mother was sick in bed with the flu,  she said. King then took Porter, a complete stranger, by the hand and took him to his mother s bedside.

She finally bought something from him because she said if she didn t, she didn t think he was going to leave until flu season was over,  she said.

That s the kind of persistence Brady and Porter would share when they gave motivational talks to sales people, she said, and which she s shared with her six children.

In her book, Brady wrote in the introduction about sitting with Porter and reading letters that started pouring in after he gained fame.

Bill commented how these letters gave him so much hope and strength. It was like a circle of love and inspiration, confirming that what you give comes back tenfold,  she wrote.

Mass for Porter will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Dec. 27 at St. Henry Catholic Church. During communion, the entire Brady family will sing two hymns to honor their beloved friend.




Local Weather

Fair

62°F

Gresham

Fair

Humidity: 90%

Wind: 0 mph

  • 28 Jul 2014

    Sunny 91°F 61°F

  • 29 Jul 2014

    Mostly Sunny 89°F 60°F