I sat with an old friend, Bill Wallen a couple of weeks ago at a local restaurant having lunch. We talked about serious things but we talked more about funny things in our lives and laughed together for a few hours over hamburgers and fries. Billed shared a volcano video with me that he had shot on a recent trip to his favorite place on earth, Hawaii. The video and the story behind it was of course incredible.
I cannot even remember how many years we have been friends but I do remember that I was always fortunate to have Bill in my life. Like most friends there were bumps in the road but most of our time was smooth sailing. He was a good friend. He was a dependable friend. He was a loyal friend. He would take the shirt off his back to help me through difficult times.
One of the most fascinating things about Bill was his treasure trove of stories about things he did in his life and he never missed a chance to share those stories with anyone who would listen. People listened and learned from one of the most talented persons I had ever known. His knowledge about photography and video was extensive and his desire to share that knowledge was unending to the benefit of a great many people.
I met Bill at Falls Camera in Arlington Va when I was giving a Nikon demo. He hung around for two days and it was not long before he became my Mr. Nikon sidekick. He had the largest collection of Nikon cameras and lenses I had ever seen outside of the Nikon office. He had more gear than I had for my demos. He just simply loved Nikon. He loved doing the demos and representing Nikon and it was not long that folks actually thought he was a Nikon employee (tech rep) that worked with me. It put the biggest silly smirk on his face.
I retired early from Nikon at the age of 58 and did a short stint in retail and Bill always showed up to shoot the breeze. Most people had gotten so use to us that we became Frick and Frack joined together at the hip. If I was there then Bill was as well.
When I finally gave up my run with retail I started a company called Blue Ridge Workshops. Of course Bill was right there constantly lending his knowledge and expertise and teaching skills to the workshops we had set up. The students loved him as much as I did. I do not remember Bill ever missing a workshop. He just loved to work with students and of course was always happily sharing his knowledge and of course his life’s stories.
In the past few years Bill has had way too many medical challenges. Each one took its toll on his health and it was just so very recently that he was told he had to go on dialysis if he was going to live. He was admitted into the local hospital for his first treatments and to have the necessary hardware installed in his body to be able to do dialysis three times a week.
I had spoken to him just before his surgery and he sounded better than he had in the last couple of years. His voice was strong, he was laughing and said after the dialysis treatments he had just had in the hospital he was feeling very good and that even his normally shaking hands had stopped shaking. (We used to affectionately call him shaky Bill.) I won’t say what he nick named me. He was already talking about he and I getting out and shooting pictures once again. I was even listing all the places he wanted to go.
He came out of the surgery okay. But it was not okay. The next morning his wife Marsha received a call from the hospital about 8:30 am saying that she should come to the hospital. Bill had collapsed and after an hour of trying to get his heart started Bill was gone. He had passed away. His already tired heart gave up. He was gone. I could not believe it. It seemed that everything was going to be great. He was feeling so good. But that was not to be.
My heart is broken and as I type this tale there are tears in my eyes. I know he is at peace and he is telling all those folks in heaven all his stories with a Nikon slung over his shoulder. Travel safe Bill. I miss you.
I love you.
Your Friend Forever