I met William “Bill” R. Walker and his lovely wife Evelyn in the fall of 2001. If the name doesn’t sound familiar, it should. They are my best friend Cicely’s parents. Meeting them was like meeting the real-life cross of the Huxtables and the Cleavers. I was instantly envious that Cicely had such great parents. They had come to Virginia Beach to visit Cicely and me in our rented condo, the condo which we now refer to as the “Argo Ct. Experience”. Bill and Evelyn were warm and effusive. They instantly whisked us off for shopping and dinner. I remember that first dinner distinctly. We went to Bangkok Garden, a local Thai restaurant. The food was so authentic that Evelyn and Bill were instantly transported back to when they lived in Thailand. Bill even spoke to our waiter in Thai, which delighted and startled him. If that wasn’t funny enough, Bill declared he was going to drink the sauce directly from the bowl of his Ginger Chicken. Evelyn was mortified. Cicely and I laughed. He didn’t do it. Although, he was “this close”. It was a wonderful evening – the first of many unforgettable times spent with the Walker family. It goes without saying that Bill and Evelyn became like second parents to me.
Bill worked in North Carolina after having spent a few years in Kuwait. Evelyn split her time between NC and Nashville, TN where she was caring for Cicely’s grandmother. Cicely and I would frequently visit Bill in NC. We would go to get mini-escapes from college work and our jobs as waitresses. It was serene and peaceful. I nicknamed their home the “Fortress of Solitude and Naps.” As a bonus, we were able to do our laundry, too. As college students who hated laundromats, this was the epitome of luxury. We once arrived while Bill was at work, loaded up our laundry, and fell asleep. Bill woke us proclaiming that he thought he’d been burglarized, but burglars don’t do laundry.
I relished these short visits. They were mostly spent relaxing, enjoying meals and having movie marathons with Bill. He’d regale us with stories from his work overseas and embarrass Cicely with stories from her childhood. Because Bill was also a photo enthusiast, we would “talk shop” about photography while Cicely read. We would make plans to go on photo safaris. Bill was very athletic and we’d trade adventure stories. Even in his 60s, Bill was still an avid cyclist and tennis player.
During one of our visits, Bill was considerably less energetic. He dismissed it and stated his doctor diagnosed him as being anemic. In March 2002, Bill was headed back to the doctor because he was feeling worse. That visit brought the worst possible news. Bill had Leukemia. It was a shock. How could someone so healthy and vibrant get so sick? Bill immediately began chemotherapy. We were all hopeful he’d pull through. Bill was a fighter. He had been a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War and followed that up with government work in many of the world’s hotspots like Panama and Kuwait. If anyone could fight Leukemia, it was Bill.
I was wrong. Leukemia had gotten a head start with Bill. Even with the chemotherapy and other treatments, Bill deteriorated quickly. By the summer, Bill was physically half the man he used to be. He was frail and thin. It was heartbreaking. All the while, he was very upbeat and determined. The months and treatments passed quickly.
Before we knew it, it was Thanksgiving. Because I knew Bill loved pie, I had found a local pie maker and brought an extravaganza of pies. I bought 6 different pies – all his favorites. He cried when he saw all the pies. I told him that pies are not supposed to bring tears and that they must be terrible pies if they made him cry. He laughed. We had a pie party. By then, Cicely had moved back home to spend more time with her dad. At Thanksgiving dinner, I announced that I was moving to California. Bill and Evelyn were both very encouraging. They told me it was time for me to have my big adventure. It was the last time I saw Bill.
Between the holiday rush and packing up to move, I didn’t get another opportunity to visit Cicely, Evelyn and Bill in NC. In January 2003, I arrived in Southern California. Shortly after that, Bill passed away surrounded by his family. I was unable to attend his funeral.
I knew then as I know now that Bill’s positive influence in my life cannot fully be measured. At the time, I was estranged from my father and had broken up with an emotionally abusive boyfriend. I was on the road to being what one might call a ball-busting man-hater. I’m not kidding. Bill doted on Cicely and was the kind of father I always wished I’d had. Bill and Evelyn frequently teased one another and “drove each other crazy”, but you could still feel the love after 40+ years of marriage. He actively volunteered and was an upstanding member of his community. Bill reminded me that there are good and amazing men in the world. If that wasn’t enough, he treated me as well as his own daughter. Bill’s time in my life was brief, but it left an indelible mark on my heart.
Because I was unable to attend his funeral, I wanted to find some other way to honor Bill. Initially, I thought I’d participate in the MS 100, which was an event that Bill regularly participated in. I quickly scrapped that idea when I discovered that I was in no way shape or form a cyclist.
My friend Ben trained for the L.A. Triathlon with Team In Training. Helping him fund raise and seeing him train inspired me. I was all set to train for the Nike Women’s Marathon with Team In Training. Then, life got in the way. I had a career that took all of my time. I stopped being active and put on weight. Years passed. I got married. I got divorced. I moved back to Virginia. I forgot about Team In Training and fundraising to commemorate Bill.
It wasn’t until last year that I thought about Team In Training again. I ran the Rock N Roll Denver Half Marathon with my friend Regina. Seeing her with the rest of the Team In Training Denver chapter convinced me.
Here I am. After 8 years, I think it’s time I finally honor a man who meant a lot to me. I’m raising money for an organization that is fighting to find a cure for the very disease that took him far too soon. I don’t think any family should go through what the Walkers went through.
Please support me as I train for my 1st Marathon. It’s always been on my “Bucket List” to run one. I’ve tried to lotto into the Nike Women’s Marathon twice. This felt like my year.
For those that would like to donate now, here is a link to my Team In Training page.
This will be quite an adventure. If you’d like to follow along with my marathon training, please feel free to read Anne K. Running Away.