My friend Bill died on Friday morning, and ever since then his friends, colleagues and clients have been posting stories about him on social media and sharing them in person.
I met Bill in late 1992 when I first joined the Sudbury Savoyards in Sudbury, Massachusetts. He was cast as Frederick, the tenor lead, in the spring 1993 production of Pirates of Penzance and I was one of 30-plus members of the women’s chorus. I didn’t get to know him very well during that production, which had over 70 cast members in it, but in subsequent years I got adopted into The Tribe, a “family of friends” that included Bill and a mix of folks who had met variously in community theater productions, during the 1980’s rock and roll scene in Boston, in college, in high school and, in one case, back in middle school. These are the friends I got together with a few weeks ago, when Bill’s sisters were in town, to hold what turned into a celebration of Bill’s life. I had heard most of the stories told that night at previous gatherings over the 25 years I had known Bill, but it was good to hear him tell them again, for what turned out to be the last time.
Here are some of the stories I hadn’t heard.
Bill was a member of the Savoyards for over 20 years, often appearing as the tenor lead in various Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. Despite that top billing, which can make some actors stand-offish or annoyingly condescending to the peons in the chorus, Bill went out of his way to welcome new folks to the group and make them feel at home.
One friend told the story of how he had auditioned for a lead role the year he moved to Sudbury. There were always 4 or 5 or even 6 times as many folks auditioning as there were roles to fill. That must have been one of the years Bill was assistant director, because he was the one to call Ed to tell him they couldn’t use him in the show. Ed said that what was usually a 20-second call to say “thanks, but no thanks” turned into a 20-minute discussion ranging over how Ed was always welcome in the chorus, the history of the group, and (Ed told me on Monday) Bill opining that he probably only got the roles he did due to a dearth of tenors auditioning. That was patently false. Bill was a talented actor with an amazing tenor voice. Among Bill’s roles with the Savoyards were two stints playing Luis in productions of “The Gondoliers” more than 20 years apart, one in 1991 and the other in 2013, the last one Bill did with the company.
Bill was a real estate broker, specializing in residential properties as a buyer’s agent. His goal was always to make sure that his clients found the home that was best for them, and had the best experience he could give them while they went through the process. Our friend Meryl, also a Savoyard, said that Bill had told her that, where some agents worked “a mile wide and an inch deep,” he wanted to work “a hundred feet wide, but a mile deep.” Meryl and her family still live in and love the home Bill helped them find 14 years ago.
For years, Bill would bring a small present to his clients every Christmas season. He would go to the local Trader Joe’s when the special holiday products appeared on their shelves and pick up dozens of boxes of chocolates, or three-ginger ginger cookies, or candy cane Jo-Jo’s sandwich cookies. He would spend the next weeks driving around greater Boston, stopping in to say hi to clients, some of whom had bought their homes years before, wishing them happy holidays, and leaving behind a box of some decadent dessert and a boatload of goodwill.
There are other stories: The friend, daughter of other friends, who he shared a love of music with all through her life – even, and especially, when she was being a particularly difficult teenager. Years later, he held her hand as she formally ended a painful chapter in her life, letting her know she was loved as she moved forward to better times. The professional colleagues he inspired with the speech quoted in the picture at the top of this post, given at a conference only a few months after he was first diagnosed with cancer. Stories of kindnesses great and small.
In the end, the best eulogy for Bill was this one, spoken on Friday night by a friend of over 30 years: Bill walked into a room prepared to love everyone in it.
May we all aspire to live a life like that. God speed Bill. We will always love you.