On April 13, 1930, a baby was born. His proud parents named him ‘William Addison’, and they could not have possibly known what a perfect name it would be for this gentle giant of a man.
‘William’ means ‘strong, resolute guardian’, and that is what he was. Even while he was still a boy, he worked to care for his large family and got them through some very lean times. When he became a man and had a family of his own, he absolutely and abundantly cared for his entire family in ways that were both lavish and practical. More than that, though, he gave of himself and his love.
‘Addison’ means ‘son of Adam’, a formal way of saying ‘son of Man’. Which is a very exalted title for Jesus, but which is also a fancy way of saying ‘regular guy’. And that is what he was. Special, yes. Irreplacable, no doubt. Singularly unique, of course. But in another way, he was nothing special. He had dirty hands, and a spicy tongue, and a big smile, and strong shoulders, and a ready laugh. He was special, but he wasn’t some prima donna. He was a regular guy.
I remember when I started dating his dear granddaughter. I cowered at the legend of this man who I imagined was ten feet tall. What would I say to a man who served his country, who ran fearlessly into burning buildings, who managed several businesses for most of his life, and served his city and state and country with distinction? What would he think of me? I mean, this was a man who was a certified expert in any field he cared to be, a fearless prosecutor of many criminals, a fixer of everything under the sun, and a citizen of the highest caliber—how could I measure up?
Oh, the stories I heard. When boating on Lake Michigan, he waited until the storms really got going before he even thought of heading back to the harbor. When he got one of the first personal computers, he wrote his own programs for it. His lush lawn and gorgeous garden have always made his neighbors green with envy. And he was a practical engineer on a grand scale. When he once needed to move a garage, he famously put it on the back of his dump truck (yes, he owned a dump truck!) and drove it down the street. What do you say to that?
Most importantly, he was a loyal and sacrificial husband to his wife, “Dad” to his children, and “Gramps” to his grandchildren. He was a guardian of the family heritage, keeper of the family stories, and teller of the family jokes. His sense of humor was unmatched, and his eyes sparkled when he told a joke or a story. He was a vanguard of a withering work ethic, and set an amazing example of how to be a person of character. William Addison fearlessly squared off against criminals, cancer, and dialysis, and was almost equally resolute in his opposition to dandelions, leftovers, and garlic pickles. Those who knew him remember that he couldn’t sit still: he was always doing a crossword, or tilling the garden, or working at the computer. Even now, when I remember him, I remember that he always seemed to be going somewhere. And yet, somehow, he had time to take in the simple pleasures of life. So that, in all he did, he found a wonderful balance: he valued the past, embraced the present, and dreamed of the future.
Beyond his family, he was famous for his huge smile and warm handshake to one and all. Living in Waukegan for several years, my wife and I learned that knowing the name Bill Manning opened doors, lowered defenses, and inevitably evoked big smiles accompanied by wonderful stories. People knew him for his expertise, innovation, and deep friendship, and they remembered him for his character. A man whose handshake was his bond, and whose encouragement meant something. Even in his retirement, he was constantly mentoring other up-and-coming professionals, and everyone who drove by his picture window on Bonnie Brook Lane would wave.
This was William Addison Manning. There is much more to say, but what’s truly valuable is his legacy that lives on in his friends and family.
In the end, he did come to accept me. Not in a formal, speechy way, but in a way that was much deeper. He loved me, and supported my wife and I. Which was, I’m glad to say, not because I found some way to bluff or impress him. In fact, it had almost nothing to do with who I was, and everything to do with the kind of man he was. And– I’m honored to say– I loved him back.
So ten days ago, when our son was born and we learned that he had already been a ‘strong and resolute guardian’ for his younger sister while the two of them were still in the womb, and we saw that he is a stout and stubborn soul, we called our dear Gramp and asked if we could use his name. He said yes, of course, and was honored. We were quick to tell him that we would never think to try to replace the original William Addison, but we hoped that our son would be just a little bit like his great Great-grandfather.
So rest, William Addison Manning, and enjoy your new body, and know that your children, and grand-children, and great-grandchildren love you, and have risen up and called you ‘blessed’.