Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Too Late

Now it's too late.

I first got to know Billy O. Wireman when my campus job had me delivering the mail to all the offices at Florida Presbyterian College (now Eckerd College) in the mid-60's. If his door was open, and it was only closed for the greatest of crises, he would ask how I was doing, genuinely concerned for me as a person.

I came to know him over the next few years as a warm, compassionate, humorous human being. His was not the false bonhomie of a person on the rise, his life was one which truly reflected those fruits of the Spirit Paul talks about. Billy Wireman was a strong Presbyterian, he was an even stronger Christian. I know this because I had the opportunities to see Billy in his professional life, his personal life, and his religious life - and he was the same person in every situation.

He began at FPC as a teacher of physical education and the school's first basketball coach. But his vision, his energy, his commitment to liberal arts education, and especially international education, soon had him coaching a generation of young people to learn, to grow, to lead, to serve. When he was only 35, he became president of the college, the youngest in the States at the time. He led the college out of a financial wilderness into a time of stability and growth - always with good humor, grace, and compassion.

I left college in the middle of my senior year, and probably would not have gone back if not for Billy Wireman. Some four years after leaving, I was back in the area visiting some friends, and we were out on the college campus. They encouraged me to stop by and say hello to Billy. Which I reluctantly did. As usual, his door was open. As usual, we had a great conversation. As usual, he was genuinely concerned for me as a child of God. "What do we need to do to get you back here as a student?" he asked at the end. Which began a process that led to my returning to that campus as a student, and graduating (finally!). One of my great memories of life is receiving my diploma from Billy O. Wireman 10 years after I had started at FPC/Eckerd.

He left Eckerd, and moved on to another small, struggling, church-related college and with his grace, energy, vision, compassion, and faith, transformed it as well, influencing still more and more young people to lives of service and leadership. Over the years, in various denominational publications, I would read about Billy, and make a mental note to myself that I should drop him a letter, I should tell him how he shaped my life, I should tell him what that one little question meant to me. And I always misplaced that note.

Now, it's too late. Billy O. Wireman died this past Saturday after a three-year battle with cancer.

I guess now I will have to write Billy that note by the life I try to lead.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

No comments: