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Bill Powell - A Celebration

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Bill's memorial was a celebration, both sad and joyous, of a wonderful man, full of life, intelligence and good humor. A man who stayed true to his unique sense of self from the jungles of Vietnam to the halls of Visa International. A man who had loved much and was much loved.

The memorial was held in Virginia Beach, where Bill spent part of his growing up years, and where he and his wife Lisa returned after he retired. His family -- including Lisa, his parents, and his daughter -- and many friends were there, and I learned about sides of him I had not known about. I knew he was a bank executive and then a vice president with Visa International; but I had not known of his not-so-secret dream to be a pro baseball player or a rock star. One of the things that stands out is how grateful everyone was that in December, even though he was battling fatigue and knew the tumor was spreading again, he was able to attend his daughter Lisa's graduation from Old Dominion University, in Virginia, where Bill also graduated.

I was surprised by how appreciative and honored Bill's wife Lisa and his family were that I was there. I went to the memorial to thank and honor Bill for his contribution to MARF; it seemed like the least I could do, and yet they were the ones thanking and honoring me. It helped bring home to me just how much it meant to Bill that he was able to serve on our Board and use that as a way to really help and encourage others with mesothelioma.

I continue to be astonished when I think of Bill and others like him, who are struggling with a fatal disease, but are not caught up in self-pity at all. Despite their own very severe concerns, they are unselfish and passionate about helping others. It's awe-inspiring. What a contrast with those who caused this disease in the first place.

As I prepared for the service, I wondered what to say. I mostly wanted to let everyone know just how much Bill went through and how hard he fought, and then to contrast his struggle with his incredibly positive attitude, the love and appreciation he expressed for his family, friends and doctors, and his passion for helping others.

In closing, I read from an update Bill provided to his profile, dated August 2, 2000. This was after his first two cycles of a new chemotherapy combination (gemcytabine and CPT-11) at Duke University Medical Center.

"I feel more normal than I have in months. Mind you, after three surgeries, 29 radiation treatments and 16 cycles of chemotherapy, my definition of normal is not what it once was. I can no longer paddle my canoe 100 miles, run a half-marathon or ride my bike 50 miles, but I can climb the steps in the house and walk to the beach. That's now my normal and I'll take it."

I had read these words before many times. I even reviewed them with Bill when I updated his profile on the MARF website. But standing there, reading Bill's own words to his family and friends, they hit me like they never had before, and I choked up.

For the first time, I saw beneath the good news and Bill's cheerful tone, to the awful gravity of what he was going through. My free-time passion is bicycling, so I share Bill's love for the beauty, the physical and mental challenge, and the thrill of intense outdoor exercise. To have things that you love and that help make you who you are taken away, by an outside force operating inside your own body against your will, would be frightening, demoralizing, excruciatingly painful. But to be able to make your peace with a new definition of normal, and to move on as Bill did, would be even tougher.

In the day and a half I had to prepare my remarks for the memorial, I struggled with what could I possibly say to address the pain and loss his loved ones and dear friends were feeling. Bill had been so alive, so bright, so full of wit and cheer, and now he was gone. What could I say on behalf of MARF to help fill that void? In the end, my words could not lessen the pain. All I could do was promise Bill, his loved ones and his friends that every day, we would use his memory as energy and inspiration to fight harder against the disease. Good-bye Bill; rest in peace.

Chris Hahn
Executive Director, MARF
http://www.marf.org

*** POSTED APRIL 5, 2001 ***