Tuesday
Jan012013

Bill Unger

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.

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Reader Comments (10)

So sad. Taken too soon. As you said, Neill, we knew but it surely doesn't soften the blow. My heart felt condolences go out to Bill's entire family. He and his voice of advocacy will be sorely missed in our community. Let's lift bowls to Bill Unger today as we embark on 2013 without him. Let's be sure keep his flame of passion for our hobby alive within our ranks and his voice echoing and enduring forever!

Fair Winds and Following Seas, Bill...
January 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLou Carbone
Fair winds and following seas, Bill. He will be missed, but his contributions to our hobby will live on. Between Tom Dunn's "The Pipe Smokers Ephemeris" and "The Pipe Collector," I learned more than I ever thought possible about this great hobby of ours. My condolences and prayers for the Unger family.
January 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTerry Carpenter
I treasured numerous e-mail conversations with Bill, and a couple of long phone calls. Today I will treasure a pipe from his collection that he sold to me for next to nothing. He just wanted me to have it. A big loss. My prayers and best wishes go out to his family. We all lost a great guy and friend today....
January 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBigAl
I spoke with Bill on the Phone one time and you would have thought we were long lost Friends, when the conversation ended we were. I never had the pleasure of smoking a bowl with him or shaking his hand but I feel like I have lost family. I sit here looking at six Custom Premium Custom Builts I purchased because of his fine book. So now I am going to light up one and hoist a drink and think about my friend. May God welcome you with open arms bill and thanks for the memories.
Chuck Goodspeed
January 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChuck Goodspeed
Of the people, by the people, for the people. That to me is Bill's legacy in the NASPC Newsletter. I am one of those who has felt great pride and satisfaction in seeing my own words in print, and feel a debt of gratitude to Bill in the kind, supportive and accepting way in which he received my work. May this legacy live long and flourish in his memory.
January 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJT
Bill and I shared a love for people, pipes, and football. His passion for all three will be missed by all. It makes us realize once again the adage "you don't know what you have until its gone".
January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Melnick
I didn't know Bill but I knew of him.

His passing is a loss to us all and our world is the poorer for it - but his life enriched our lives and his life should be celebrated.

RIP Bill - it's hard for his family and friends but some things will never pass.
January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJimbo44
Heartsick here. Heartsick for Bill and for his doggie and for his loving wife (those are Bill's words on that subject) Pam. Heartsick for all the sick people who go to bed at night dreaming about little pieces of wood carved from the bulbous root of some Mediterranean shrub, and yeah, because I'm a self-centered cat, I'm heartsick for myself. Bill Unger was a treasure. Now he is a treasure lost. For better and for worse, every single word of all my pipe writings for the Pipe Collector were penned with Bill in mind. Sure, I suspected some of the more far-out stuff might of been a little beyond his comfort zone, but that just made writing it more fun.

After one entirely made-up piece where my entirely fictional brother-in-law, Dud, supposedly drilled holes through all my pipes and, in an effort to make amends, glued little Monopoly pieces in the holes, a very good-hearted fellow subscriber who totally missed the joke was kind enough to contact me through Bill, offering to do his best to restore my smoking treasures. I don't believe Bill had any wish to handle the delicate matter of putting this misguided fellow straight. So I mustered up all my writing skills and wrote a most delicate note to the kind-hearted repairman. Bill thanked me profusely for doing so. I think that incident speaks volumes about the generosity and the goodness of the people involved in our hobby, Bill first and foremost.

These past few days I've been walking around feeling as if there's a Dud-like hole been drilled in my life. Only this hole is non-fictional and apparently big enough to lose an entire friend in. Worse still, thus far nobody has come forth and offered to mend it. Bill Unger is gone. No simple, silly made-up repair for this one.

My deepest sympathies to us all.

ralph in jersey (theironist@hotmail.com)
January 6, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterralph in jersey
This is definitely a sad day for us. Bill was just a wonderful person who was so giving of his time. Our deepest sympathies to his wife and friends.

I wish I could think of something that the pipe community could do collectively to honor his memory.
January 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDan Coomer
We have not so many intelligent, fair-minded, and compassionate persons now-a-days that we can easily dispense with any; even so, Bill made a reasonable decision, one which I admire greatly. Fare thee well, Bill, sweet thoughts and pleasing dreams be thine.
February 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAlbert Mendez

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