Sunday, May 21, 2017

Bill Walsh Memorialized in (Grammar,) Style (and Punctuation) (continued)

Good afternoon.

For those who don’t know me, I’m Bill’s brother Kenny. I’m the youngest of the three Copy-Editing Walsh Brothers.

I’d like to thank all of you for coming today to celebrate my brother's life – as well as thank the Washington Post for letting us host this important occasion in this beautiful space.

Before I get started, I wanted to take a moment to introduce you to our family. First, the woman who gave us the man we’re all here to remember -- our mom, Molly Chilinski. Next to her is our stepfather, Gary Chilinski, the man brave enough to marry a woman with three smart-mouthed boys. This is Terence, the middle copy editor. And this is my partner, Damian, who has been my pillar of strength through this entire ordeal. Our sister, Jennifer, in Arizona sadly couldn’t be here today. My mom has some mobility issues, but would love for everyone who would like to to come by to say hi today, and to share your memories of Bill.

I think I speak for my entire family when I say we have been deeply touched by the outpouring of love and support we have received since Bill died, and by seeing how many people's lives he touched, as evidenced here today. Our family is forever heartbroken, but it's comforting to know how beloved Bill is.

I wanted to tell you what an honor and privilege being Bill's little brother has been for me. Bill was the quintessential older brother. The smartest. Most responsible. Most organized. Ambitious. And he had a very heightened sense of right and wrong, and hated it when people didn’t follow the rules, which undoubtedly helped make him the gifted editor he was. We grew up hearing that he had started reading when he was 3 and how as a toddler he could name every car's make and model as he drove down the road – making him our father’s pride and joy. Our mother and Bill had such a strong and special bond that some members of the family thought it was unfair for them to be partners when we played games, believing they could read each other’s mind. (Which they totally could!) Bill was the star of the family -- and Terence and I wanted to be just like him. So if Bill was into boxing, we were into boxing. If Bill was into tennis, we were into tennis. And if Bill was into Simon and Garfunkel and Gordon Lightfoot and Woody Allen movies, so were we. While other kids were flocking to see all the summer blockbusters, Terence and I were tagging along with Bill to see a double feature of "Play It Again, Sam" and "Casablanca" or “Watership Down” at the University art cinema in Tempe. He was just so much more fun than everyone else.

When people find out Bill, Terence and I all went into journalism -- and all ended up as copy editors -- the first thing they usually ask me is, "How the hell did that happen?" ... and more recently, "I'll bet you’re rethinking that decision.” They'd usually follow it up with something like "Were one of your parents editors?" to which I would say no, then usually make a joke about it being a "genetic defect" that led us all down this path.

But for people who knew my brother Bill, the more logical question would be, "How could Terence and I have not ended up following in Bill's footsteps?"

It all started in 1977 after Bill had gone on to Page Junior High School, leaving Terence and me behind at Hiller Elementary. Bill had only briefly attended Hiller after we moved to a new school district midyear before the birth of our sister. But he was not impressed with Hiller's "Free to Be You and Me" sensibility, which was the polar opposite of our previous, more traditional school, Roosevelt Elementary.

While attending Page Junior High, Bill became a star reporter and proofreader at the school paper, cleverly known as Page One. After school and later at the indoor racket club where we practically lived in those days, Bill would bring home copies of the paper to show us his work, and would regale us with stories from life in the newsroom, where he met his two best friends, Paul and Barry, who started hanging out at our house and joined our tennis circle. Bill quickly got Terence and me on the lookout for errant apostrophes and misspelled words on menus and signs.

Bill made working on a newspaper seem like so much fun, I decided I wanted to start my own. I recruited my friends Liz Krato, Andy Fisher, Tina Wilfong and Alfonso Alvarez as reporters then set up a "newsroom" in our partially finished basement, fashioning name plates out of Scrabble tiles. I then persuaded my fourth grade teacher, Ms. Schnabel, to sign off on the paper, and got her to give me a stack of blank "ditto" masters, that printed copies with that fun purple ink. From there, though, I didn't have a clue how to publish a newspaper. (It would be decades later before Bill and I could share our mutual disdain for Methode.) Ever the helpful Big Brother, Bill signed on as "editor in chief" of the Hiller News, designing the pages, typing the stories, writing the headlines and contributing the paper's only comic strip, GOOD GRAMMAR, BAD GRAMMAR.

The first issue was a runaway success, with students, parents and teachers from throughout the school heaping praise on me, as if I were a 9-year-old William Randolph Hearst.

Then we followed it up with a special St. Patrick's Day issue printed on green paper. Things started out as normal -- Terence contributed a feature on the sixth-grade class's upcoming trip to Toronto -- $39.50 included a bus tour of the city, visits to Casa Loma, the Ontario Science Centre and the C-N Tower plus dinner at the Spaghetti Factory -- while my friends and I cranked out hard-hitting pieces about the importance of returning your library books on time and the addition of chocolate milk to the vending machine in the gym, which doubled as an aromatic cafeteria.

Then Bill made the bold decision to write an explosive front-page op-ed about the school -- with the headline: SHAPE UP, HILLER! -- which I just happen to have a copy of us with me today.

(Click to enlarge)

Take a look at yourself, Hiller students, and Hiller staff. Your facility is among the most modern and well-equipped in the state. As a former Hiller student, as well as the Editor-in-Chief of this publication, I am taking this opportunity to point out the obvious weaknesses plaguing your school, and how to correct them.

(Bill was 15 when he wrote this!)

First of all, when I first came to Hiller from Roosevelt Elementary, my older school founded on older principles and ideas, I was amazed at the beauty and convenience of the school. I was also amazed, especially after attending the school for a few weeks, at the total lack of discipline on the part of Hiller students. It is this reason why I would much rather have attended my old school than Hiller.

What is a “Snowball Area”? Snowballing is a very dangerous “activity,” as well as a complete breach of discipline with the students participating. It was obviously created to save the supervisors the extra work needed to keep kids out of other trouble, so they would at least kill each other with snowballs “peacefully”! Everybody who has ever been in the Hiller playground during winter knows that the children now have no regard for the “snowball area” and figure that if they snowball in one area, they can do it anywhere they please – and ultimately do anything else they please for the rest of their life. 


Are the lunchroom supervisors afraid of the students? I’ve thought so all along, and will continue to do so until I hear a more favorable report from the fellow staff members Start getting down on offenders! Start making some rules! If you think that students are fully against rules, you’re wrong. Rules are made to protect everyone in a given society. ONCE AGAIN, I BEG OF YOU (students, teachers and everyone else). SHAPE UP, HILLER!

Well, Ms. Schnabel either didn't read what she was printing that day or was high from those "ditto" fumes, but the paper was circulated just as the previous issue was -- only the following morning my accolades were replaced with a trip to the principal's office. Bill was unrepentant, citing the First Amendment. But Woodward and Bernstein had just brought down a president, and Principal Kwapisz wasn't about to let us do the same thing to him. I tried to put up a fight, but a 9-year-old Floyd Abrams I was not, so he shut us down for good. (The principal was not my pal in this case.) 

Still, the journalistic seed had been planted. Bill was so right about the lack of order at our school. And seeing the power of the press in action was pretty intoxicating – and none of us ever looked back.

Watching Bill become a leader in the field – teaching, writing three acclaimed books, winning numerous awards, speaking around the country and even being written up in William Safire’s On Language column -- has been a joy and the source of enormous pride for our entire family. (But seriously, was the "snowball area" only created to save the supervisors the extra work needed to keep kids out of other trouble? To this day, no one has ever satisfactorily answered this question.)

My mom recounts a favorite story of mine from when I was a very young boy. She says she told me to “go ask my brother Billy” something -- to which my toddler logic indignantly replied: Bill's not MY brother. Terence is MY brother. Bill is Terence's brother. As an editor for the past 25-plus years I have learned that it is never too late to issue a correction for something you’ve said that’s factually incorrect, so I'd like to say here today in front of a room full of journalists that Bill Walsh is indeed MY brother -- and that I love him and miss him very much.

Thank you.

Terence read from Bill's book "Lapsing Into a Comma"
You can read Jacqueline's beautiful and heartrending eulogy to the man she loved HERE.
The Walshes turned out in spades. From left to right: Rick, Carole, Bob, Ellen, Kevin, Bill, Jim, Jaye and Quinn
Toasting Bill afterward with Damian (and my friend Ken and Terence) at the Pub and the People
We never skip a visit to Arlington National Cemetery to visit our brother Kevin when Mom is in town

Terence and me with Dad's headstone
And as if the visit hadn't been emotional enough, Jacqueline took us to the spot (below) where Bill's ashes will be interred in a (still-being-constructed) bench on a peaceful tree-lined path in Congressional Cemetery. (She will join him in the other leg at a future date TBD.)
Jacqueline, Terence, me, Mom and Gary
 I love that the area has views of the rowhouses -- not unlike the one he and Jacqueline bought and lived in since 1995 -- he loved so much. For a trip so fraught with sadness, it could not have gone more smoothly, and had so many happy moments. xo