Losing a best friend is like losing a family member. Death is so abrupt and leaves one with such emptiness. You reflect on the happy times you remember when there was never any resignation that there would be an eternal separation. You are always aware that finality eventually comes about, but when you think about the end time, you liken it to a violent storm. Make it through the night and it will be gone by morning.
Sadly, there are times when the storm does not pass. You are gripped by the pain and you become resigned to the reality that there has to be a regrouping. A new day has come and one must cope. Emotions need rehabbing. Broken hearts need time to mend.
With my friend Bill Saye, I thought of him being immune to the ravages of age. He ate right, he took daily walks. He never bounced about the emotional scale—never too high and never too low. He was a hard-nosed football player who embraced fair play but expected himself to pay the price to measure up to the taskmaster edicts of his colorful coach Wallace Butts. Practice field rigor was to be respected. After all, the squarest deal a man could have was to play a college sport and receive a free education in return. Bill never lost sight of that glorious dividend.
There was an endearing plus that accompanied his time wearing the Red and Black—the commarardie he enjoyed with his teammates. Lasting friendships were always a reminder that those with whom you shared the locker room experience had the same core values—that there was life after football.
Bill was not a man given to blather and emotion. He was proud to have been a Georgia football letterman, one who never gave less than his best, one who quietly but passionately swooned to the ringing of the chapel bell. Even when he became an alumnus.
Bill lived a good life. It just didn’t last long enough. Most would agree that 85 years on this troubled earth is a number many fail to reach. He outlived many of his friends and many in his family.
There is no exact formula for longevity. There are reprobates who seem to gain momentum with advancing age. Conversely, there are healthy practitioners who never take short cuts with diet and exercise, living with an acute accent on healthy living, but something befalls them prematurely.
Choosing a healthy diet, walking energetically every day, Bill seemed conditioned and temperate for a longer haul, especially with a helping of good genes. He was in the business of the sale of spirits but he was an abstainer. He could have written the book on moderate living.
In his sundown years, he took up art. He was never content to accumulate idle time—he was always finding something to do. Functioning with an altruistic bent, Bill became a community volunteer. Bulldawg Haven at Oconee Hills Cemetery. Piedmont Regional Hospital.
When he retired from General Wholesale in Atlanta, he and his lovely wife Margaret settled in Athens where life offered lift, learning and good living. The campus experience brought them lasting fulfillment and compatibility as undergraduates. They wanted to reconnect for their golden years. It was rapture, a homecoming that stimulated personal hosannas and brought about a stimulating lifestyle in their sundown years.
When he settled in, he stopped by my office one day and I greeted him with, “Congratulations.” He replied with, “for what?” The answer was “you are now treasurer of the Wally’s Boys Association.” I had assumed the role of managing the association but felt that a football letterman should be involved. Bill did a masterful job of bringing structure and consistency. When a letterman noted, as lettermen often do, that they didn’t have the greatest experience, owing to practice field drudgery, Bill would say: “We can’t do anything about that, but come enjoy fellowship with your old teammates.” That resonated and participation was on the upswing.
We put together a news letter and obituaries of fallen teammates became a staple of the publication’s function. It fell my lot to write about the passing of our friends. The next issue will offer the best possible tribute to our fallen leader. It won’t make my day.