We make a lot of friends in high school.  Most are formed on the basis of a common place or circumstance, like being in the same classroom, part of a sports team or a club.  These friendships tend to be casual, meaning we rarely talk about our deeper thoughts about life, hopes and dreams.  We are usually drawn by our image of a person, not their reality.  Such friendships tend to fade as we traverse through the trials and tribulations of life.   

A lasting friendship requires more than a shared history or fond memories of the old days.  As we go through life changes and gain maturity, we develop a deeper understanding of our likes and dislikes.  For a new friendship to become close, a commonality of shared values, experiences, enjoyments and even displeasures need be present.  We tend to be more aware of, and pay more attention to, a person’s worldview and character.  Most of our school friends, were we to meet them again, wouldn’t likely fit well with our new selves.  One that did for me, and with whom our friendship deepened over time, was Bill Rainey.

Most Crawfordites knew Bill as a football and track star and genuine nice guy.  That’s how I knew him back when.  We were friends, but not all that close.  He was fiercely independent, a loner who danced to his own beat.  It would take years, long after his athletic exploits and our shared histories faded from memory, that I got to know the real Bill Rainey.  Over time, and especially in the last decade or so, we formed a close bond, the kind of which you talk about inner thoughts and feelings.  We took several road trips together, traveling to golf outings, the Masters golf tournament in Augusta, and wine tasting touring in Washington and Oregon.  On these trips, we talked about life and loves, joys and regrets, mistakes and opportunities missed, and, as was his want, American politics.   

Bill was one of the most honest and authentic persons I have ever known. Completely devoid of any phoniness, what you saw is what you got with Bill.  He never put on airs or tried to impress those around him.  I never heard him boast about some present or past glory, of which there were many.  He was humble and unassuming, and, as his friends can attest, an extremely generous man; a soft touch who couldn’t resist giving to someone in need.  He had a great sense of humor and would laugh uproariously at old stories.  He could also laugh at himself.

Attracted as I was by his honesty, humility, genuineness and generosity, I was probably most impressed by his humanity.  He believed in human equality and social justice.  He lived his life by the principle of equal rights and opportunities for all.  I can recall countless times he’d call to complain about some injustice he’d witnessed or read about.  To him, social justice was not only an abstraction, it guided how he lived his life.  He practiced what he preached in a career as a union representative for airline employees.  They couldn’t have had a better advocate.

Bill was driven by a fierce determination to rise to challenges.  When he was stricken with neuropathy, as a result of diabetes, which left him unable to walk or even stand, he didn’t bathe in self-pity or resign himself to this cruel fate.  He saw this bad card he’d been dealt as another challenge to overcome.  It took him nearly two years of physical therapy to regain, first the ability to stand with a walker, walk with a cane, then eventually walk normally again.  The last time I talked to him, two days before his unexpected passing, he mentioned playing golf again.  I teased him about running an 880, a race he won in the 1962 CIF track meet.

I had four high school friends with whom our friendships grew and deepened over the years: John Allison, Larry Dubbs, Tom Ault, and Bill.  All are gone now-- far too soon. The grief I feel is immeasurable.  Hardly a day passes where I don’t think about an eventful moment we shared, the fun and laughter, and all the stories that can’t be told.  The premature passing of my good friends was not only a great loss for me, but also for an America that needs people of such fundamental decency and humanity. I feel very fortunate to have known them well.     

Most Crawfordites will remember Bill as a sports star, “Mr. Football.” He was that, but that’s not what defined the man.  I remember him as a person of compassion and integrity, a person of substance who taught me a lot about human decency.  I was fortunate to have known him for nearly 60 years.  Those who knew and loved him know how very special he was. 

Our country has lost a great citizen—a man who embodied and lived his life according to our founding ideals.  He will be sorely missed.

Ron Fox

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