Our kids never knew their grandfathers – both gone too soon – but Uncle Walt played that role perfectly. He rode with us for most of our one week grand tour of Texas colleges in Bret’s junior year, and was the only non-parent at Stephanie’s first ballet performance. He showed up one Christmas with a new 386 desktop and a subscription to AOL “The internet is going to be HUGE!” Later he put new Panasonic TV’s in each bedroom, and while I thought we’d never see Bret or Stephanie again, we did. At some point the cards laden with $200 checks began arriving at Christmas and on their birthdays. He was in our wedding. At Bret’s he was Best Man who presided over a raucous wet bar. He drove a thousand miles to North Carolina for Stephanie’s ceremony and in both cases offered lavish wedding gifts.
After Duke’s doctors beat my cancer he suggested we go to Spring Training in Florida. “Walt, between six months of half-pay on disability, some towering medical bills, and all the clouds on the horizon of homebuilding, I just can’t spend that money.” “None of us know how much time we have left, which is why I’m paying for rooms and tickets.” He was my mentor at the CPA firm now known as Deloitte & Touche. He pitched for the company softball team and I was its catcher. Walt has been with me and Kat for nearly 45 years, rarely in the same state yet always in touch.
He could have played Sheldon and I Leonard if Big Bang Theory involved CPAs. He had exalted self esteem and zero tolerance for fools. He married too young, suffered too long, and then granted her a divorce. Walt found the love of his life at 34 experiencing real joy for many years. And then, like Sheldon, his Teutonic need for order and logic in all things drove away his second bride whose creativity and Mediterranean mindset still delighted him. They remained close. He told me “I’ll always love her, but we just couldn’t live together.”
We had played in the same fantasy baseball league for 15 years. He was known as The Blackbird and famous for his sense of honor, fair play, and sportsmanship. His opinions on the right way to run a league usually became our law. He had hoped to play one last season as recently as January. I wrote this obituary for Walt in that league.
“The Blackbird Flies No More
Our old buddy, the courtly CPA from Ole Miss, your competitor most likely to acknowledge an enhanced role of The Fates in the whipping he put on you last week, and as good a friend as a man can hope to have, passed away this morning.
He was diagnosed with prostate cancer several years ago and had a pretty good idea of how his end would come. He refused potentially life-saving surgery. As he related it to me “Dogs and cats get neutered. But me, I need something to scratch.”
He was 74 and had lived a pretty good life. His suffering was largely mitigated by his home health hospice workers who gave him excellent care.
We will miss The Bird.”
The Kat and I spent most of the last three months helping Walt exit life as comfortably as possible. We had help from our daughter Stephanie, from Walt’s second ex- Julie, and now and then from his old friend Doug. Bret and Allison visited and helped with his birthday party. We drove him to chemo, found the things he felt like eating, and cooked and cleaned when he’d allow it. He had a couple of good weeks in January, several good days in February including that fine day when his sense of humor returned. That was Saturday the 25th.
I woke up in our Airstream at 4:30 a.m. the morning of the 27th feeling a profound certainty that he was thanking me for being with him since October. Kat and Doug had taken the night shift with him, serving morphine on a four hour schedule. At 5:00 the phone rang: Walt was gone. The coroner did his duty, and just after sunrise the hearse took away the body. As it drove away the wind chimes rang random melancholy notes. A flock of blackbirds crossed above us with a lone straggler hustling to catch up.
“Birthin’ is hard, and dyin’ is mean.
So get you some lovin’ in between.”