Our friend and advocate, Bill Unger, passed away earlier today from complications of leukemia. Many, if not most, of us knew that this day was coming, but while we knew, our knowledge didn’t soften the blow one bit. I feel a disturbance in the force; the vitality of our pipe community has been diminished.
As editor of The Pipe Collector, Bill gave NASPC and pipe enthusiasts everywhere a voice. Although he was an extremely accomplished writer, himself, he put his skills to work making the rest of us look better than we really are. He had a rare gift that many editors lack: a gracious, generous, and encouraging spirit. When a submission came over the transom, he was actually grateful, even though every article submitted created more work for him. He also made sure the real voice of the writer came through in everything he edited. As a result, every issue of The Pipe Collector contained not just an array of articles, but an array of diverse and authentic voices. Bill gave the average guy who sweated over an article the enormous satisfaction of seeing his words and thoughts in print.
Our pipe community, like any community is fragile. We are as prone to fractiousness, drama, and cliqueishness as is any other community. In the bigger scheme of things, our disagreements or issues might be trivial, but to the impassioned, they are important, and through The Pipe Collector and Bill’s stewardship, these issues found a forum within which they could be addressed if not resolved. If the fabric of our community is strong, it is because Bill knit us together.
For years, whenever I’d sit down and chat with Bill at the Chicago show, he’d give me a bad time about not coming to the NASPC show in Columbus, then encourage me to show up. As is the case for so many of us, I have yearly had conflicts with the August NASPC dates. This year, I had a last-minute cancellation in my schedule, so I hopped in the car and came at the last minute.
When Bill saw me walk onto the bar patio on Friday evening, the night before the show began, he exclaimed, “I must be seeing things!” That was Bill’s way of welcoming me. There was warmth in his voice, but he wasn’t letting me off easily for all the years I didn’t come.
I’m so grateful that I had the chance to sit down, have a drink, and spend time Bill last August. I’m grateful I had the chance to meet his lovely wife, Pam. As I wrote in a previous post about this past NASPC show, it was one of the best, most fun shows I’ve attended. It will be painful for many of us to be at next year’s Columbus show without Bill, although I can’t help but believe that all of us will sense his presence in the legacy he’s left us.
I’m planning on making a memorial book for Bill’s family. If you knew Bill, or benefitted from his work, and wish to share a message, please leave it here as a comment.