Monday, March 23, 2009
This morning we got the kind of phone call that one dreads. Richard, a friend from New Hampshire, called to tell us that his brother Bill had died suddenly on Thursday. He was only in his mid-50s.
Bill and Richard were not only brothers but best friends. They were also colleagues in the paint business for the past several decades. They were the best painting duo in the Monadnock region, without question, and long-time friends of my husband. Many times over the past thirteen years they have been a part of our days as they had painted most of our house--inside and out--at different times. They had also worked at the house for many years before we married (our former historic home was an on-going maintenance proposition).
Bill and Richard were always patient with our paint schemes and only once did they have to redo something they had done recently: our living room redo (when we opened two parlors into one) in November 2005. I remembered today that I had taken some photos of him then. Among the many other imprints they made on our new family life together in my husband's ancestral New England home: they painted and papered our first son's nursery (later my office, another redo) and painted and papered our two new (old-style) butler's pantries that I designed and that would inspire my book. They painted and papered our boys' first bedroom together. (Some rooms we had left alone out of homage to the original wallpaper.) They were as much a part of that big, old wonderful house as we were. When I remember that house I think of them in it, too, as the walls and woodwork are infused with their spirit and hard work.
Bill always had a warm grin and liked to talk about all manner of things including books (he was also a book dealer), sports (with his brother), even a harmless bit of gossip. It was never boring when the Reilly boys were around and Bill was happy to tell it like it was. I never minded when they listened to Howard Stern in the mornings (before he went to satellite radio), after our daughter headed off to school, as I was a closet listener myself (I don't think they could ever quite believe that).
It was also Stern's radio show that provided one of those unforgettable life moments. On September 11, 2001 Bill rushed into the kitchen from the front of the house, "Turn on the TV, a plane has hit the World Trade Center!" He had heard about it on Stern's show. The horror of that morning was somehow diminished by the presence of the Reilly brothers in our home. With them quietly painting, somehow it all seemed OK, that life was just going to go on. We talked, we processed, we vented. Always, Bill brought a certain Zen-like quality to his profession and presence. He also was an unwitting counselor and was happy to share his knowledge and experience on so many things.
While Bill was older than his younger brother and boss, Richard (whom we liked just as much), the respect and humor was always mutual. "Do you guys ever fight?" I'd often ask. Bill would make a snide comment with his wide smile and Richard would playfully fire something back. He was good to all of us: to my husband's aunt, to our three children, to our dog Lucy, whom he adored. Bill was just one of those rare and genuine people who truly meant what they said or offered in life. He was a craftsman, a jack-of-all-trades, a bibliophile. Bill was also a gentle giant. His heart was as big as his stature and that is ultimately, and suddenly, what ended his life. It is ironic that Bill's heart failed him in the end but I would doubt if he ever failed anyone in his life.