This is the approximate text of the short impromptu eulogy that I gave for Bill Wallace on April 27th. It's been difficult to write since the funeral, which is why this piece is so late. Even in the short amount of time that I knew him, I became very attached to Bill and his death was a blow to me as well as the whole family. Bill was quite the guy, as I hope the piece below shows.
For those of you that don't know me, my name is Tom Spriggs and, despite the white beard, I am probably the youngest of the Wallace clan - at least if measured by time in place. Most of you knew Bill for much longer than I did. It was only four years ago that I found Denise Wallace on a blind date, the woman who will soon become my wife, and when you found Denise, you also found Billy Wallace. The Wallace's all stuck together and Bill was the glue.
The fact that I am the most "outside" of the clan may give me some perspective on Bill that I would like to share with you. At least this is who Bill was to me.
I found from the beginning that I got along well with Bill, but then many most people did - this was one of Bill's particular gifts. It was very easy to become Bill Wallace's friend. In fact, anyone who knew Bill for more than ten minutes was probably considered a friend by Bill and he put great stock in friends - almost as much as he did in family.
Of course, that didn't mean that even if you were Bill's friend he wouldn't put you through some hoops, since he had a distinct trickster element to his personality. And as a prospective son-in-law the hoops could be somewhat high.
Case in point: Being somewhat old fashioned, when I decided to ask Denise to marry me last year, I went to Bill first to ask permission. So, I pulled him aside at a New Year's gathering of the family and told him that I was planning to ask Denise to marry me and asked if that was okay with him. He just sort of stopped and stared at me for what seemed to me to be a very long time with a blank expression. I, of course, panicked. Once he saw that he "had me", he then displayed the trademark twinkle in his eye and he put out his hand and welcomed me to the family. I had been "gotten" by Bill Wallace. It wouldn't be the last time.
Besides or maybe because of this devilish side to his nature, Bill was really a great teacher. And here are some of the lessons that I learned from Bill Wallace over the time that I was privileged to know him:
1) Do what you have to do and don't complain about it. Whining doesn't make for a fun environment and you're going to have to do a lot of things that aren't fun over the course of your life. Why make things worse for everyone including yourself?
2) Do the right thing, (it's really not that hard to figure out what that is).
3) Work hard - as we all know Bill held many jobs during this life, sometimes multiple jobs, in order to support his family. Hard work was a part of who Bill was and it resulted in good things for him and his family.
4) Try to have some fun while doing the previous three things.
Denise mildly upbraided him one day not long ago as he again tried to put yet another corny joke where it just wouldn't fit. His instant reply was, "Well, you have to keep trying." And try he did. Over the four years that I knew him, my initial admiration for him grew into a type of awe as I saw him battle Parkinson's disease everyday and work very, very hard to be as healthy as he could be, both for himself and for all of us. He didn't complain or make it a bit deal, he just did it. There was a lot of man behind that impish smile and the corny jokes.
Over time, I also came to admire his courage. Not just because of what he did in response to his Parkinson's, but in the way that he had lived his life. Bill Wallace was someone who had the courage to live an open and trusting life even though he knew that some people would eventually disappoint him or even take advantage of him at times. It wasn't that he wasn't cognizant of these possibilities for Bill was a very smart man, but rather he was courageous enough to not make his life smaller because of them. For me, this was Bill's great lesson.
So Bill lived by very simple principles. And, as those of us who have tried to also do so know, this is not easy to do. But Bill was a master at all these aspects of life and I, for one, am going to miss the lessons that he gave us every day.