In Honor of Bill Saunders
February 8, 1948 – July 21, 2016
There’s a somber mood in our house this morning. Sad. Sad. Sad. Sad. Last night we got the news that Bill Saunders, Peter’s closest friend, died suddenly of a heart attack. Bill was one of Peter’s first roommates at West Point, during Beast Barracks, and theirs became, now literally, a lifelong friendship.
My heart is heavy and grief’s fog seems to have moved in on my brain, so I may not have much to say, but I feel a sense of duty to honor him on the page this morning. How could the first day without him on this earth pass by without publicly speaking about him?
It seems ironic to me that he died of a heart attack, because Bill was such a big-hearted individual – genuinely and generously kind, caring, sensitive to the needs of others, and empathic. In the Spring 2016 issue of the West Point magazine, it says: “The mission of the United States Military Academy at West Point boils down to producing competent and committed leaders of character.” I’ll leave it to his fine sons of whom he was so proud, his classmates, and band of brothers throughout his military career to speak of his competence and leadership. But character? Oh, yes, I can freely tell you that Bill Saunders had more integrity than he knew what to do with. You could see it on that handsome face of his, in the way he held his broad shoulders and mostly strong body, in the tilt of his head when he spoke with you, in his actions which were so much louder than words. Bill showed up. He showed up for his family and friends, he showed up for the prisoners he ministered to on Sunday evenings, he showed up for his fellow parishioners, organizing annual mens’ retreats for several years. He even showed up for me when I had an author event at Barnes & Noble in Atlanta when my memoir came out. Bill would go the extra mile for any and everyone he loved or felt that God was calling him to.
Honestly, I never think of Bill without seeing Marilyn right there with him. I remember how in love they were back in our college years, how enthusiastic about starting their family of little boys when we were living in Germany, and how evident it was that they still cherished each other, last time we visited them at their home in South Carolina. I can’t imagine how hard his death must be and will continue to be for Marilyn and for those boys-now-men and their wives, all of whom Bill loved so much.
In closing, there is a message I wish I could leave for Bill and Marilyn’s seven grandchildren. Your grandfather loved you so much. He talked about you with his friends and was always eager to show your pictures. You brought so much fun into his life. Listen to stories about him, and remember that you know him too and that his love will be with you always.
God blessed us with you, Bill. We’re grateful for that, but we miss you so much.