Thinking about Bill Buchanan

The nation celebrates and honors our veterans today, and deservedly so.

I’m thinking about my late friend Bill Buchanan.

A member of the National Guard who resigned on principle, he died two years ago yesterday.

I was in Orvieto, Italy when I got the news.

While I was sad, deeply so, I wasn’t surprised.

Bill had fought the cancer that ended up getting him for a full six years with courage and without complaint.

That he battled and how he did so came from his character, and he was a lot more than someone who grappled with a deadly disease.

Grounded in his Cleveland family and tribe, he gave and inspired fierce loyalty and bone-deep among those from his hometown who knew him when. They made the trek time and again to see their boyhood friend whose end was coming far too early, but came nevertheless.

One of his childhood friends, a law professor, started weeping openly and unashamedly when he returned to Evanston months after Bill’s death to visit and check on Maureen, Bill’s widow and one of Dunreith’s closest Midwestern friends.

Bill generated that much love.

He did it by being a wonderful combination fair and funny, loving and objective, radical and human.

The older I get the more time I find I spend with dead people.

The moments can be quiet ones of reflection when a memory bubbles up from within, or they can be Proustian associations triggered by a sensory experience.

The latter happens to me sometimes when I walk past the Buchanan/Ruder household with Dunreith.

I’ll look on the side of the house and Bill will appear.

He’s working on the garden with there with his three boys, Nolan, Aaron and Kyle.

It’s in the afternoon on Mother’s Day. The sun is pretty strong. Bill and his teenage sons are sweating. His mustache looks moist. He’s wearing a blue t-shirt and a khaki pair of shorts.

No one is talking, but the silence is not an angry one. Rather the father and his children are giving their wife a mother the gift of their labor.

Bill taught me about being a father, being in the moment, speaking your mind, acting on your beliefs and embracing life’s glorious imperfection.

This veteran was a good friend and a better man.

I miss him still.

A lot.

Here is a video of Bill speaking at a CPS board meeting two days after he and other National Board Certified Teachers with whom he worked were fired. The decision left Bill without health insurance a little more than four months before he died.

Here is the post I wrote about Bill after Dunreith told me about his death two years ago:

RIP, Bill Buchanan
Posted on November 15, 2010 | 4 Comments | Edit

I didn’t know Bill Buchanan for too many years, but I’m sure going to miss him.

He died Thursday night after a six-year battle against cancer.

Dunreith and Maureen, Bill’s wife and life companion of many years, are close friends. they have an intimacy that has its genesis in large part in their shared intelligence, homespun strength, and love of walking.

Bill was always generous and kind to us. In fact, a relatively high percentage of our indoor furniture has come from Buchanan/Ruder hand-me-downs, always delivered with a smile by Bill and at least one of the boys in the family’s large and unquestionably misnamed mini-van.

He wasn’t just generous; he had a sense of occasion, too.

I always loved being a guest at their summer parties—took particular pride in his juicy hamburgers covered with exotic sauces-and in the double dates we took with Bill and Maureen for sushi on New Year’s Eve and for Thai food on Ridge.

Handsome with brown hair, a thick mustache and a firm handshake, Bill had a deliciously dry and quick sense of humor and exuded a steady confidence and easy comfort in his own skin. I always relished the times we spent together in the stand at Aidan and Aaron’s lacrosse game.

It was during one of these games, and after, I believe, he had stuck up for his hometown by wagering a six-pack that his beloved and often beleaguered Cavs would take down my Celtics-he was gallant about paying up when they lost-that Bill reminded me of an important lesson.

I was talking about an opposing team that, in my opinion, ETHS should have beaten.

“Never say should in sports,” Bill said in essence. “What matters is what you do.”

He was right, and not just in sports.

One of the many admirable things about Bill is that he lived the way he talked.

The cancer got him in the end, but not after he had fought it with guts and without complaint. Bill battled it long and hard for years and even licked it for a while.

He wasn’t a martyr, either. He accepted our offers of help, bagels, Mrs. May’s and the soup we got for him at different times, joined us for short visits we shared after delivering the goods, and asked me to go with Dunreith and pick up their car from the hospital.

In so doing, he gave us a profound gift.

Bill also lived out of a love that started with his family. He and Maureen struggled at moments, as all honest couples I know do, and they never stopped working at their relationship, and, from what I saw, they did awfully well. Bill loved and liked his boys, too-something which is not always the case between fathers and sons-and took great pride in their growth, development and accomplishments.

He also loved the work he did, the people he did it with, the friends and family he grew up with, who formed him and who gathered to spend what we all knew was some of the last minutes they would share with their soon to be fallen friend.

He loved the bike rides he took, the men’s group to which he belonged and the neighborhood in which he lived.

In short, Bill didn’t dwell on shoulds, he did.

He lived close to his heart, and with integrity and courage. I am a better person, husband and father for knowing, spending time with and learning from him.

The final weeks were extremely tough, and I feel some relief amidst all the sadness that his suffering mercifully has ended.

I’ll miss Bill when Dunreith and I walk by the house on our way to Whole Foods, when we sit in the stands at Aidan’s lacrosse games in the spring and when we bump into Maureen gardening in the yard.

I’ll feel the lump in my throat and my eyes water.

And then I’ll remember how he lived and I’ll straighten my back and keep going, as he did.

Thank you, Bill. Thank you, friend. I’m glad you are at peace.

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