Yesterday, I attended a memorial service for Billy Hoke, my brother-in-law and the brother of Leslie and her sisters Barbara and Jane. Within 10 days of being hospitalized and 7 days of being diagnosed, Billy had succumbed to pancreatic cancer. Before his brief hospitalization, his only symptoms were feeling tired and sluggish for several months. The family remains, at this point, in disbelief.
Sixteen years ago, I had the honor of marrying into the Hoke family. Shortly before our wedding, Leslie introduced me to her older brother, Billy Hoke. With a grin and chuckle, Billy uttered his first word to me- "Run" (true story). Even back then, Billy had some considerable experience in the marriage department, but I only briefly considered his sarcastic advice.
There were many things that I admire about the man. For me, much of my admiration is based on the attributes laid out as a foundation by Billy's father, Bill Hoke. A strong work ethic; a simple approach to life and lifestyle; honesty in all things personal as well as professional. And perhaps the most evident, his joy in celebrating life. Not just his, but yours as well. Any of us who have had meaningful conversations with Billy know that he would never turn a conversation into dialogue about himself. When you spoke to him, his quiet interest was in you. Someone once said, "People may not remember the words used in a conversation, but they will always remember how you made them feel". Billy always made you feel worthy and important. He was authentic. For better or for worse there were no secrets, no agendas and no putting on airs. To Billy, it was as the song says "Take Me As I Am".
He was generous and loved to give to others. His favorite time of year was Christmas and he especially enjoyed giving gifts to the children. As they excitedly opened their presents from Uncle Billy, he would sit there on the edge of his seat and grin from ear to ear. In that way, he was not unlike a child himself. He was also generous with his time and it was amazing this weekend to hear from his friends how much support and encouragement he gave to them in difficult times. Perhaps that is why so many of us are shaken to the core by the loss. There is not a replacement for the son, brother, father or friend that he was.
But just as our memories of the man remain, Billy lives on. There was a spiritual, prayerful side of Billy and he knew that this life was not all that there was. In the final conversation that they would have, Billy told Leslie that he was right with God and ready. What a gift to a sister and a family. So for now, we will miss you Billy, but know that we will see you again. Until then, we'll try to strive for the authenticity, generosity and celebration of life that you displayed in your life. That's a present you gave us that we'll try to open more often. And as we do, I imagine you sitting on the edge of your seat, grinning from ear to ear.