Dear Bill (I never knew you as Billy),

Along with everyone else, I was shocked to hear that you had left us so suddenly. You didn’t even have time to say good-bye. The first question I asked myself was when did I see you last. Then I remembered that it was at the Colm Toibin event. It was very crowded there but you made your way to me to say “hello”. I never knew you well, but a few things will stand out about you in my mind. To me, you cut such an impressive figure. You were tall, well-built and always impeccably groomed. You also possessed a kind of quiet dignity. Such things impress women like me. Finally, you were always gracious toward me (I expect that the children of my friends will be polite, but I don’t expect more). You always gave more. You seemed genuinely interested in talking to me. The other thing that I won’t forget is that you kissed my hand! Who taught you to do that? That is a practice that has, unfortunately, long since disappeared from social life. In a phrase, you were a gentleman in every sense of the word.

What did we talk about that night? A few fragments come to mind. I asked about you and your siblings, since I don’t see any of you that often. You told me that you had left WIRED and, I believe, were doing free-lance journalism. I am sorry that I don’t think that I ever read one of your pieces. Maybe your parents will give me one.

I mentioned that your parents had told me the story of how they met in Stuttgart on a Sunday afternoon while your father was a soldier stationed there and your mother was “ein junges Madchen”. Your father told me how his mother-in-law-to-be plied him with “Kuchen mit Schlag” and he was won over.

Then you said that your mother spoke English with a British accent. I told you that I had been living in Germany at about that time (1960) and had considered teaching English to earn a few extra dollars only to find out that they would only consider hiring teachers with a British accent. American English was considered totally unacceptable. Of course, all of that has changed now.

About this time, we drifted apart to talk to other friends who had attended the event. In retrospect, ours seemed like such a simple conversation – an exchange of pleasantries – the kind of talk we all have with many people. It was only after you left us that I realized that it would be our last. I think that the Germans and the French have it right when they wish their friends “Aufwiedersehen” and “Au Revoir” – until we see each other again. That idea gives me more comfort.

Claudia O’Callaghan

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