As Colleen shared with me a little something about the story of Bill’s life, I was
struck by his deep sense of roots in life. The house in which he was raised up in by his parents in Lake Parsippany was throughout his life his home base; the place he called home to the very end of his life. He had a life long love of history, having attained a Master’s Degree with a thesis on the American Revolution. He knew his personal and social roots.
With his strong sense of the roots that sustained him, Bill loved to take wings to travel afar in exploration of the world that Bill found endlessly fascinating. Following high school he served in the army in Vietnam during the war. He attended college in Florida, worked for ATT in California and then in Iran in the turbulent time shortly before the fall of the Shah.
Whenever he could he loved to travel, making a point of learning about the history of the places he visited. By Colleen’s estimate his travels took him to 22 different countries. In Germany he took a particular pleasure in tracing back his family’s roots on his father’s side.
Somewhere along the way he attained a pilot’s license, which in turn led him to pay special attention to the nuances of the weather.
Bill was a man who valued his solitude, and yet, at the same time he treasured his human contacts, delighting in his extended family to whom he was known as “Cousin Billy.” His cousin Cookie was like a sister to him; he taught her to drive, and was always there for her in times of need, showing up in the hospital to check up on her when her health failed.
At Christmas time he made a point of sending out dozens of cards to the people who had touched his life. In the course of the year he would send out Mass cards with touching sayings.
I was struck when I met Bill twelve years ago by the tenderness with which he had cared for his aging father. His family meant a great deal to him.
He paid attention to people — people others might overlook. In the shops he would to business in regularly — say Dunkin Donuts for instance — Bill would make a point of getting to know the store clerks who waited on him. He made a point of giving compliments.
In his will, Bill had asked that memorial gifts be given to Covenant House, the wonderful Roman Catholic outreach that ministers to runaway teenagers on the streets of New York.
Although by nature a somewhat solitary man who never married, in the last several years of his life Bill was blessed to develop a tender, loving relationship with Colleen. Colleen accompanied Bill on his explorations, traveling together to Philadelphia, Massachusetts, Niagara Falls and the Finger Lakes, as well as a more exotic trip to Panama so he could see a region of the world he’d never been to before, and visit the famous Panama Canal.
Fiction never much interested Bill; he wanted to know what had actually happened, how things actually worked. He spent many weekends and evenings in the library. He enjoyed watching the history channel.
As a child Bill’s father had instilled in him a life-long love of the New York Yankees, and together Colleen and Bill would enjoy watching the games on TV. It was fitting that Bill this past year he could get to savor one more world championship. Colleen taught Bill to love college basketball, and together they would root for Syracuse.
Bill was a lover of birds, making a point every winter of making sure his bird feeders were full of birdseed. In recent years money was short for Bill, but he always made sure to buy birdseed. He read books about birds, and could tell you about the different birds and how and where they nested. He also had a particular love of trees, especially old trees with deep roots. He taught Colleen to appreciate the simple common-place beauty of birds and trees.
I am reminded of words Jesus said in the sermon on the mount:
‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
Bill was consistently kind, and generous with what he had. Just recently Cookie had put Bill in touch with a couple of cousins he hadn’t spoken to in a long time who had moved to Idaho and Las Vegas, and Bill called them on the phone, a premonition, perhaps of his immanent departure.