I should have known when one week turned to three, then one month became two. Truth is, I never stopped to calculate the frequency of visits from Bill T. I just knew they occurred regularly. And I enjoyed them.
Bill T was Bill Talarowski, a man I began doing business with nearly two decades ago when he owned Litho-Print, a commercial printing shop on Vandever Avenue in Wilmington. A gregarious man with a gentle manner, Bill T was old school in the best sense of the term. Hell, even then he was beyond retirement age.
In 2001, Bill T sold his business to Farley Printing, which in turn sold to Associates International. But instead of retiring, Bill T continued to work, doing business the only way he knew how—in person. Always spiffy, always ready with a photo of his garden or a story of how the bass were biting at his “secret” fishing hole, a sales call from Bill T was as easy as slipping on your favorite loafers.
“When I first bought his business in 2001, he said he wanted to keep working and I was fine with that,” said Joe Farley, Jr., COO of Associates International. “Then a year or so later we sat down and I said, ‘Bill, you know we really should talk about your retirement.’
“He said, ‘Let’s not talk about retirement. I love working. What am I going to do, fish all day?’
“That’s the last we talked about retirement.”
Then fate ended the conversation for good. Bill T worked a full day on Tuesday, Sept 26. The next day he had a heart attack while getting ready for work. He was 89.
Bill T had battled health issues for years, and as soon as he fought off one ailment you’d see evidence of another. All of which made his regular visits to me somewhat amazing.
“I’m sick of all these damn doctor visits,” he shared with me. “They fix one thing, then it’s something else. I know what the hell’s wrong with me. I’m getting old.”
Indeed, he was, but not too old to work. So, a few months back, I followed through on a good intention I had put off for far too long. I took Bill T out for a business lunch—a simple gesture I knew he would appreciate.
Truth is, we didn’t talk much business. Instead, we talked history, politics, world affairs, fishing… We revisited his childhood in Wilmington. We reminisced about the time he took my son (then 8) to his “secret” fishing spot—a simple gesture I appreciated.
After lunch, as he gave me a firm hand shake, and a proper look in the eyes, he said simply: “Thanks for taking the time. I really enjoyed this.”
A few months later, Nov. 3 to be exact, it dawned on me that Bill T hadn’t popped by in a while. So, I called his cell phone and left a message. No return call.
Bill T always returned calls promptly, so on Nov. 4 I called Joe Farley at Associates, fearful that I already knew the answer to my question. Joe confirmed that, yes, Bill T had passed away a month or so ago. No viewing. No funeral. Bill T had made it very clear how he wanted his death handled, Farley explained.
Later that day I would speak with Bill T’s wife, Sue, who apologized that I wasn’t notified.
“But it’s funny you called today,” she said. “You know, today is his birthday. He would have been 90.”
The serendipity made me smile. Happy Birthday, Bill T. You may not have wanted the fuss, but that doesn’t keep me from sharing what a pleasure it was to have known you.