My first time meeting “Papa (pronounced Paw Paw) Bill” was in the Spring of 2014 after Kayla and I started dating. He was so involved in the lives of his grandchildren he made the 200-mile trek down to Nashville to see Kayla in a musical at Welch College and then again for her graduation.
But it was that fall when I really had my first clear memory of him. Kayla and I met in Sesser for the weekend and went to the local high school football game that Friday night. We saw her granddad before the game, where he was about to help run the chains (to measure first downs). He was 80 years old, and he showed the enthusiasm and energy of a teenager about to play in the game. Just a few weeks ago, a man who used to work with Bill at the games told me, “I was half his age, and he could run circles around me”.
That was a perfect microcosm of Bill Sample to me. He had to be moving, to be doing something productive, to be proactive and grab life by the horns. Even in the months after he was diagnosed with cancer he still found the energy to go fishing with his sons many times and to even cook fish for the family once this past summer.
More Than An In-Law
And it was at his house around the dinner table I really got to know him. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas he would make sure I got the seat beside him to eat, so he could joke with me and tease me. He was (as they say in South Carolina where I’m from) a real cut-up. And he enjoyed life to the fullest. I’ll never forget how he always made sure I had my coffee at family gatherings–with milk and sugar. He probably didn’t think much of me defiling my coffee that way. Yet he never failed to make sure that I not only had coffee after the meal but that the milk and sugar were set beside me.
Papa Bill often asked me how I was doing. But it was never in passing or insincere. It was always when he and I were alone in his living room with him in his chair and me on the couch. He wanted to know what was going on with me and not the short version. He really cared about me and always made me feel like real family and not merely an in-law.
Papa Bill To Countless People
Make no mistake, however. He showed this kind of affection for throngs of people. His house was often so full for holiday meals there was barely any room to move. He was a true patriarch and everyone in the family looked to him for guidance and encouragement. And he gave it in enormous doses in his own unique way.
It should be known that he was faithfully and happily married for nearly 60 years. He was a strong and doting father for nearly that long. And as an active and interactive grandfather and great-grandfather, he was clearly in his element. Even ten days before his death, he was on his living room floor playing with my son Liam, his namesake. Liam was given that name because William Sample deserved that honor. Perhaps my favorite memories of Papa Bill are of him holding Liam in lap and talking to him in a joyful and playful voice, in a way Liam clearly appreciated even at seven months old.
Bill Sample went home in the truest sense of that word on Sunday, September 1 this year. The void he left in our family is gigantic. But I look forward to honoring his legacy until the day I am called home. And I’ll do that by doing what I do with enthusiasm and energy. And by taking care of people in the small ways like making sure they have their coffee, the way they like it. By having so many people at my house for meals that the dining room is about to burst. And by genuinely caring about how people are doing.
That is how Papa Bill lived and why he deserves my tribute.