Bill Flies, a southern Minnesota farm boy who invented technology, started companies and helped restore a historic Minnesota village on the Mississippi River, died Feb. 19 at his home in Old Frontenac.
"He was an engineer, first and always," said his son Tom Flies, a technology executive in Southern California. "He loved technology. He also had a passion for people. Family. His employees. He knew them and he was interested in their families."
Born in 1942, the eldest of 11 children raised on a Wabasha County farm, Flies graduated from Plainview High School and Minnesota State University, Mankato in 1964, with degrees in math, physics and business.
He worked for Univac upon graduation, in computer code and operating systems. He co-founded Technalysis in 1969, which sold information technology to the IRS, the U.S. Postal Service, intelligence agencies and the military.
He noticed that a number of workers wrote their passwords on paper left on their desks. Not secure. That was partly the inspiration for 1978-launched Datakey, which designed secure portable information products, including data and voice-encryption systems. Datakey provided encryption for STU-III secure telephones used for classified communications by U.S. presidents from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama.
Flies started XATA Corp. in 1985, a pioneer in gathering cab-level information for trucking companies, from fuel management to delivery times. He stepped down from the CEO role after several years to focus more on next-generation technology. Flies left Xata, which was sold several years ago, in 2002.
In 1987, Flies and his wife, Linda, started Chateau Frontenac, redeveloping a historic resort and church camp area on the shores of Lake Pepin. They moved to Frontenac from Burnsville and renovated a turn-of-the-century hotel and surrounding cabins into their home and a bed-and-breakfast, and a few other properties.
Acquaintances said Flies was a big-hearted capitalist who shared his wealth, including with the Lupus Foundation. That disease claimed his daughter, Marette, when she was a college student.
In 2012, Flies received a distinguished-alumni award from Minnesota State, Mankato for endowing the College of Science, Engineering and Technology Flies Fellowship to enable a faculty member annually to work inside a company for purposes of bringing that research and experience to students.
"You would not know he had money," Tom Flies said. "He was a car collector but drove a pickup. He was just a normal guy. He loved going to his granddaughters' dance recitals. He was a storyteller about growing up on the farm with nine brothers and a sister. He was kind and had a great sense of humor."
In addition to his son Tom, Flies is survived by his wife and son Marc, two granddaughters, his brothers and sister.
A celebration of life will be announced at a later date.
Neal St. Anthony • 612-673-7144