Letters about Billy
From the letter of a father to his children, one of them a girl Billy had dated in high school, written about Billy's memorial service:
"As I walked up to the steps of the church about 10 minutes before 11, there were perhaps a hundred people lined up on the steps and on the street waiting in line to sign an [attendance] book." [continuing the father's letter] "Certainly I think he was the finest young man who ever visited our home, and I'll never forget the evening, Deb, that you and Bill were delayed by the car breakdown and arrived home in the wee hours. As a parent, it was a warm experience at the time to see how he handled himself."
From the talk at the service by his 3-year college roommate:
"We all know Billy as a happy-go-lucky guy who brought smiles and laughter. Further we know the athlete that got on the ice, did his job, and got off. And more, there was a quiet concern to understand the people and the life he was so significantly a part of. His sense of humor, his competitiveness and selfless approach to people came together in Bill's courage to do a job."
From a teacher or administrator at prep school:
"As you know, I knew Bill in many areas and was never disappointed in any of them. There are few, if any, of the many people who have gone through this school of whom I was as fond and whom I admired as much."
From a math teacher at prep school:
"During his senior year hardly a day passed that he did not stop in at my office where we had lots of laughs as well as serious thoughts. [At the 5th reunion of the class] Bill appointed himself a committee of one to fetch me out at my home where we had a really great visit for a couple of hours. I could not help but be impressed with his whole attitude toward life and the world in general. He was certainly more understanding of the current situation than I was, and after this tragedy, am now."
From the friend of the younger sister of a prep school friend, written in 1993:
"I knew him only slightly as the wonderful friend of the Meck family.... Julie and I enjoyed going to the games, and after soccer games, Bill would always come over to say hello and talk to us. This made us feel special, and together with the interest he showed in what we had to say, are what leave me, even today, with the impression of kindness and thoughtfulness. We were all cheated when he was not able to enrich the world through a longer life. I just wanted you to know, I'll always remember the fine son you raised."
From a college friend:
"Bill did not permit his excellence and his promise to overcome personal warmth. Seemingly unaffected by his excellence and promise, Bill opened himself to those without any near combination of his qualities. Bill was a warm person, a person who didn't try to make others over in his own image, but rather a person who accepted people for what they were, and liked them for it. Almost unconsciously, Bill made friends with faculty members and students, with Mid-westerners and Easterners, with athletes and non-athletes, with failing students and Rhodes scholars, with handsome people and homely people, with broad-minded people and narrow-minded people.... In times of achievement he was humble in bestowing his greatness upon his friends. In times of failure or sorrow, he strived for the better..."
[One of his college friends who is now a well-known producer/director on Broadway recently told us that what he remembers most about Billy is how Billy used to go out of his way to speak warmly to him even though he (the director) was a self-described nerd at the time.]
From a soccer referee at college:
"I have never seen anyone who embodied my ideas of the perfect athlete and gentleman more than did Billy. I will never forget his greeting to me before every game, words to the effect that it's good to see you again, Mr. Williams. I'll never forget those rare times when Bill felt I missed a call and would quietly say, 'Ref, I think you missed it' in such a way that you knew he had to believe it was a bad call and not an excuse for himself or his teammates. Also, I'll treasure those moments after a game, regardless of whether Dartmouth won or lost, when he'd come up, shake my hand, and say, "Great game, Mr. Williams," and would ask me what games I had coming up."
From the custodian of his freshman dorm at college:
"I found him to be one of the finest boys and one that was well worthwhile knowing and both my wife and I will always be glad we knew him. Even after I retired he took time to visit me now and then."
From a college friend, 2 years younger:
"I remember the time he would take to help me and others in soccer, hockey and rugby. He went out of his way to coach and encourage underclassmen. He was also the type of guy who you had to stand in awe of until you met him. For all his capabilities and campus status, there was no one more humble or more outgoing. Everyone who knew Bill loved him."
From one of his best friends at college, written in 1978:
"I must say that the immense feeling of loss experienced has not diminished after 10 full years. Bill's memory stays strongly with me-and I am very thankful for that.... My old friends are still my best friends. Ten years ago I lost a lifetime friend and the pain still exists because he cannot be replaced."
From a college friend, written in 1990:
"It is funny, but I think you will understand when I tell you that I have often been surprised to find myself remembering Bill at odd times. He had a sense of humor I found particularly appealing, a way of making you slightly uncomfortable, until you realized what he was doing and in that realization you learned something about yourself. I remember him as a vital man, charged with happy energy, a good sportsman, someone who loved people and did not seem afraid of life, someone who made you glad when he came into a room. I remember, too, what I thought of as his increasing uncertainty about that damned war as our last year grew shorter."
From the program for a Dartmouth hockey game at which a lounge in the new hockey rink was dedicated in Billy's name. It was 1966 and the soccer team traveled by plane to Cornell.
"For Bill, this was a problem. He hated to fly. True to form, Smoyer had bouts with air sickness before the plane touched down in Ithaca. The next morning he was still under the weather and unable to eat... With 30 seconds to play in the match, Cornell led, 2-1. On the sideline, [the coach] was reconciled to defeat when Smoyer's shot from 25 yards out sent the game into overtime. Play in the overtime period was scoreless into the last minutes... when Smoyer altered the inevitable.., with a shot from much the same spot as the tying goal. Despite his achievements, Smoyer kept a low profile among his teammates and fellow students. He was totally respected and liked."
From the soccer coach in a letter to me in 1990:
"No one made such an indelible mark on my own life as did Billy. In a way, I still have trouble believing in the reality of the situation. The conclusion that I finally reached was, quite simply, that I guess I thought Billy was invincible. I never saw him in a stressful situation that he couldn't handle.... He never panicked, never flustered. He could always think and work his way out. He could operate in disaster and finish in style. He had class. He was exceptional.
"However, he was operating in situations where the behavioral patterns of his opponents were fairly predictable and both sides were governed by the same set of rules.... [In Vietnam there were] imposed restrictions on how you are to play the game against an opponent who has no such regulations and suddenly the playing field is not very level.
"I have used the following many times when talking to young people concerning their future as leaders.
"As a leader,
- You can command a man's time.
- You can command a man's physical presence in a given place.
- You can command a measured number of skilled muscular motions per hour or day.
These things you have to earn!
- You cannot command enthusiasm.
- You cannot command initiative.
- You cannot command loyalty.
- You cannot command devotion or hearts, minds and souls.
"The young men who looked to Billy for leadership had no difficulty with the last found ingredients. He had charisma. He was believable. He was inspirational. He made you want to be part of whatever it was he was doing."