by Jack Fowler

We downsized to new offices at 215 Lexington Avenue in September 2007, not too long before Bill passed away. By then he was into life’s home stretch. A man still working, but wearied, and burdened — the emphysema that took his life also gave — in this case an oxygen gizmo that became a regular companion. This surely was not how he must have envisioned the Golden Years. (One’s greeting of “Hi Bill! How are you?” was returned matter-of-factly “Decomposing.”) Bill shared this horrid affliction with his long-time secretary, Frances Bronson — another ex-smoker now fighting for every breath. For Frances, any change resulted in anxiety, and the move (smaller space, less glorious) was particularly tough on her, and deepened her funk. Amassing what little energy he had, Bill ventured to NR to have lunch with Frances in her new space. It was more than about breaking bread: It was a display of love and friendship, a clear message that to him, and to all of us at NR, Frances very much mattered. And she did. I can see Bill arriving, taking a few steps, stopping, his arm leaning on the wall while he caught his breath, looking up, seeing a colleague, getting that smile, that 100-watt gleam, giving the “Hey Buddy!” greeting that had become his trademark, then continuing on to Frances’ office. It was 50 feet but it seemed like 50 miles. But he plowed ahead. Waiting for him was a friend, a sandwich, a blessing, a tender mercy, a lesson to us all, a moment of loyalty and affection that affliction could not prevent. When he left, almost sheepishly, without fanfare, he was exhausted. It was Bill’s last visit. And maybe, in God’s eyes, among his most important ones.

For more WFB remembrances on his birthday weekend, click here

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