Goodbye to Uncle Bill

This past weekend we lost my Uncle Bill suddenly. Although he had some health issues, his death at that moment was unexpected and devastating. We will all miss the generous, jovial man who was husband, father, brother, and uncle to a family that loved him dearly.

You always knew when my Uncle Bill walked into a room. He was a big man, physically, but that wasn’t the reason you noticed him. Uncle Bill’s warm voice flooded a room, his ready smile and quick laughter lit up the space, and his hand reaching out to greet everyone brought joy with it.

My Uncle Bill was a people person. He never met a person he didn’t want to know. He would talk to anyone and everyone he met. He would charm the ladies and pal around with the men. Within minutes of meeting someone, he would know their life story. He defined the word “extrovert.”

He got along so well with people because he had a strong sense of empathy. He was always quick to offer help to those in need. He would share whatever he had with people who had less. He would be there for people when they needed someone to talk to or just someone to care. This is why he was so passionate about his work with the band cadets at Valley Forge Military Academy—he wanted them all to succeed in life.

My uncle’s own life, like most of ours, was not free of setbacks. But the thing about my uncle is, his setbacks did not define him. He picked right up and kept on striving, kept on trying, kept on working hard and honestly in order to reach for his dream. That takes a lot of courage, to keep going when times get hard. But I think the thing that sustained him through any disappointments was knowing that his loving wife and children stood beside him always. To Uncle Bill, his FAMILY was his ultimate success, and the rest was just window dressing.

Family meant a great deal to my uncle. My memories of family get-togethers always feature Uncle Bill’s booming voice—and his stories. Who could forget his stories? My uncle was a born story-teller. He would have us all laughing so hard we couldn’t breathe, and tears would stream down our faces. We all knew that his stories “evolved” over time, and that they had their share of “enhancements”, but that was part of the fun—and the heart of the story always remained the same.

In the end, I think what defined my uncle best was his heart. His empathy, his courage, his laughter, and his love all poured out of his huge heart. He was a generous, kind man who spread warmth and goodwill in a world that needs many more people like him.

I have no doubt that he introduced himself to everyone in line while waiting at the Pearly Gates. I can see him now, recruiting angels into the Celestial Band. I can hear him talking to Moses, and saying, “Don’t worry about all those years lost in the desert, Moses. My infamous driving shortcuts never worked out very well, either.” Most of all, I can see him hugging his mother and father, sitting down to a huge family dinner with them and all our ancestors, and regaling them with stories of what we’ve been up to down here on Earth while they were in Heaven.

Uncle Bill lived life fully. He would want those left behind to do the same, not to let his passing stop their joy. We can honor him by reaching out to others, even if it’s just a smile for the cashier at the store or meeting someone’s gaze as you pass in the street. Uncle Bill’s gift was in making everyone feel like they mattered, like someone really saw them, really heard them. Our divided world needs more people like him who reach out and say, “We’re all human, we all matter, and we all have worth.”

So think about how you can make a difference in your own life. Think about where you will go from here. Think about your own dreams and how you will reach them. After you’ve thought long and hard, answer the deeply philosophical question that was Uncle Bill’s trademark: “What’s the pla-ha-haan?”

Then go out and do it.


  1. Nicely written, Kerry. And my sincere condolences.

    Tony Conaway

  2. Kerry, I am so sorry to hear about your family’s loss. This is a beautiful tribute to your uncle. <3

  3. So sorry for your loss, but what a wonderful eulogy.

Speak Your Mind


WP-Backgrounds Lite by InoPlugs Web Design and Juwelier Schönmann 1010 Wien