Tuesday, July 31, 2007

S'Long, Bill

I've seen him around, now and then, for the better part of three decades. I can't claim to know him that well, but damn, I'm going to miss him anyway.

His name is Bill Uhl. He's been a helicopter mechanic with our employer, PHI, for thirty-eight years. Tomorrow is his last day at our Houma, Louisiana base. He's retiring.

I had a hellacious day out in the Gulf of Mexico today. We dodged thunderstorms and the occasional waterspout through most of our day, and when I got back this afternoon, I felt as though I'd been beaten with canes. My plan was to go back to the quarters, eat something, shower, then fall into the bed. But then, the area manager told me we were putting on a barbecue for Bill. I couldn't miss it.

Bill, for good reason, is one of those people who nearly everyone likes. He seems perpetually cheerful, conscientious, capable, and enthusiastic. He's just one of those who can walk into a room and put folks in a better mood. If you act in a bad mood around Bill, you soon feel like an asshole. I suppose that's why I'll miss him so much, even though we've only been friendly acquaintances, not friends in the true sense: people like Bill are just so valuable to a workplace, in ways both tangible and not.

Everybody wanted a piece of Bill this evening, but I was able to chat with him for a few minutes. I asked him what he first planned to do upon retirement. He answered, "Y'know, I've always been a procrastinator away from work." (That was surprising, considering his reputation as an aircraft mechanic.) "Thirty-six years ago, I started working on a rocking horse for my son. I drilled a hole in the wrong place, and I just put it away. My son found it while visiting one day, and told me what my first retirement project should be: finishing it for my two year-old grandson. So yeah, that's my first project. I'm going to finish that rocking horse for my grandson, thirty-six years after I started it."

Something about his story just hit me with a wallop. I felt a big lump forming in my throat. It was just so sad, happy, remorseful, and celebratory at the same time. It just got me. Bill won't be spending half of his time away from loved ones any more, and he's going to finish that rocking horse.

Bill, I'll miss your smiling face, your cheerful demeanor, and your unflagging patience with we sometimes trying pilots. Have a wonderful retirement, and God bless you.


Bob Barbanes said...

Wow, didn't know you were working in Houma, Hal. My old stomping grounds! Probably one or two who remember me there...maybe not fondly...

I do remember Bill Uhl though. As you report, always a cheerful disposition as I recall - a shining example of how PHI can engender a loyalty that keeps people there for decades. That's noteworthy for *any* company, nevermind a helicopter company!

Sorry I missed the party.

Bob Devlin said...

Nice story, Hal. Good luck Bill.