This week’s “Distraction” blog is a little different. We’re sad to report that the father-in-law of podcast host Dr. Ned Hallowell just passed away. In Ned’s newsletter, he writes a touching tribute to Bill George, recounting some of the life lessons he learned from him, and he has allowed us to share it with you here:
Greetings, my friends. As I write this latest note there is sadness in my world because the father of my wife, Sue, passed away yesterday at the age of 86 after a bout with pancreatic cancer.
While as far as I know none of you knew him, I want to tell you you would have loved this man, Bill George. I want to write about him here, now, not only to commemorate one of the most unforgettable characters and kindest men I’ve ever known, but also to connect with you all, us the living ones, and muse a bit about life and death.
Bill was a tall man, about 6 foot 2 inches, who lost the use of his right arm in an accident in the Army. After he fought for his country he came home, got married, and had three girls, the oldest being Sue, whom he called Suzie. When Sue was 11, Bill’s wife, Sue’s mom, died of kidney failure, leaving Bill to raise these three spirited girls.
He worked at a paper mill in West Point, VA, and did his best as a single parent until he decided he needed help. But he was not able to find the help he needed, until, as he would put it, the good Lord intervened and introduced him to Pat, his second wife. Together they had Christopher, who, along with Pat’s son Richard, brought the children count to five.
Bill was a staunch Republican, while his Suzie was an ardent Democrat. They fought over politics day and night. Bill looked a lot like Lyndon Johnson, and he deplored racism in an area of the country where that was not always easy to do. Bill was totally his own mind, always speaking his own truth. He had a deep religious faith, but he never preached or put on airs. He deplored hypocrisy more than anything.
When I met him for the first time he came to the airport dressed in overalls. He made a point of not trying to impress me. He’d said something to Suzie along the lines of “Tell your Harvard boyfriend that I’m just an old country boy and he better get used to it.” I loved him immediately, and soon he became like a father to me.
In the town of West Point, everyone knew Bill, not only because he’d risen to a high position in the paper mill, the largest employer in town, but also because he did a lot of good behind the scenes. He’d never tell you about his good works, but other people would tell me, once they knew I was his son-in-law.
A graduate of Virginia Tech, Bill loved his alma mater and its football team. Many a Thanksgiving week I’d sit with Bill in the basement watching Tech play UVA, Sue’s alma mater and Tech’s traditional rival. Much to Sue’s displeasure, Tech usually won, even though Bill often had to leave the room, so upset was he with some blunder Tech had made.
Why am I telling you all this about a man you don’t even know? Because Bill is a man you would like to have known. Because Bill was a great man, in the best and truest meaning of that word. In our age of superficial values where such emphasis is put on stardom and wealth, Bill George stood out because he was a man of depth, of loyalty, of humility, of generosity, of love.
He didn’t show emotion easily or often, and he would likely wince were he to read this. But I want to trumpet out his greatness. I want you all to hear about Bill George, and to honor him in your lives by trumpeting the greatness of the Bill Georges you know, of the good and honest men and women who actually stand for the best in life, who give it their all while they can, who are there for their friends and even for the people they do not much like, who quietly and unassumingly do what has to be done to make life as good as it can be for as many people as they can touch.
It’s the Bill Georges who make life not only worth living but fun and fulfilling. It’s the Bill Georges who serve us all most faithfully and who deserve our respect most ardently. Love the Bill Georges you know with all your heart while they are still with us and living.
And love them even after they depart because, like the Bill George I know and love, they never truly leave.
Bill George was a great man. Let us salute him.