Friends and Our Many Readers
It is with heavy heart that I share with you the passing today of Bill Myles. You may know Bill as the subject of Myles Traveled: Stories of My American Journey, the book we together wrote about his life. But I knew Bill as a friend.
Bill was ill with lung issues and in the OSU hospital for the last several weeks. It was a trying ordeal. Because of Covid, Bill could not have visitors in the hospital. Lorita had followed the ambulance to the hospital, so while he was alone in a hospital bed, Lorita had to quarantine two weeks alone in their apartment at Friendship Village. No visitors are allowed at the Senior Living Complex right now and their daughter and son could not be there to comfort Lorita, or Bill, not be there to comfort either one. When the doctors had done all they could, the family was able to bring Bill home with hospice care and the had a last precious and blessed week to share their last special time and memories.
Bill came into my life by chance. I showed up at his office under the Jesse Owens Stadium one day seeking some information, and one thing led to another. Soon Bill and I would record his story for more than 100 hours at a simple card table in his living room, with nothing but a tape recorder and two glasses of his favorite drink, “Orange Crush”. Out of that chance meeting and that card table blossomed not only a book, but a deep and cherished friendship. I once asked Bill why he allowed me, a stranger, to be the one to tell his important story. “It just felt right,” he said.
There are a handful of people in all our lives that have an out-sized influence on who we are, what we believe, what we become. Your parents, your family, your spouse. A teacher, a coach, a pastor. A boss, a mentor, a friend. Bill Myles was in that rarefied group, not only for me but for the hundreds of people whose lives he touched over his years. In his last days, Bill’s family was receiving so many calls and texts from Bill’s former players – players that went into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, players that became doctors and educators and coaches and Pastors – that the family had to ask for privacy.
Bill was a man of great character. One of Bill’s Drake University teammates told me “There are a lot of doesn’ts with Bill Myles. Doesn’t drink, doesn’t swear, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t disrespect women….” I once inadvertently let a “damn” slip into a draft I wrote of one of the chapters. Bill scratched that immediately. “People would know that wasn’t me, I don’t say that,” he said.
Bill was a man of great faith. He recounted to me one day, a cruise to Alaska, acting it out as only Bill the master of storytelling could do. As he told me the story, Bill turned his body like the ship. “I stood on the bow of the ship in Glacier Bay,” he said. “The Captain turned the ship this way. Then he turned it that way.” “I looked at that astonishing beauty,” Bill said, “and I thought, ‘how can you not believe in something bigger than yourself?’”
Bill blessed me in a unique way. I was raised by a progressive mother and father. I attended from first grade on, schools that had been integrated long before Brown versus Board of Education. I came of age in the Civil Rights Movement and grew up in the shadow of two Black Universities. I remember the year in the early 60’s that our Mother took us to the Community Thanksgiving Service because it was at the AME church and we should support that. All of my school life, I had Black classmates, Black teammates, Black friends. But getting to know Bill, and telling his story of growing up Black during segregation, painfully revealed to me how little I understood what it was like to have grown up in the shoes of my own teammates and classmates. Bill told me, about that part of the story, “I don’t want people to think I am bitter, because I am not. But I do want them to know what it was like.” I tried my best to do that my friend.
I will miss so much our phone chats. We would talk Buckeyes, talk football, talk politics, talk history. He never failed to ask about Jenny. He never failed to ask about the kids and grand-kids. I will miss Bill’s insight and wisdom into the sporting world, his enlightenment of what makes players and coaches tick. I will miss his grasp of history. Certainly, his command of sports history, but it was much more than sports – history of Presidents, history of states and cities, history of cultures, history and biographies of great Americans. After all, Bill became a history teacher before he became a coach!
I will miss the kindness and generosity and humility that radiated from everything he said and did. I remember the day Bill and I drove under Ohio Stadium. It was summer time and one of the workers was sitting there guarding the gate. The gentleman’s only job was to sit on that chair all day and let only authorized people in. It certainly wasn’t the most prestigious job in the University. But when we pulled up, Bill took the time to chat and make that guy feel like a million dollars. As we pulled away and the guy stood there grinning ear to ear, Bill turned to me and said, “Doesn’t cost anything to be nice.”
I more than once heard Bill tell someone “he made me look good.” “No Bill”, I would answer, “I just told the story. You are good.”
And I will miss Bill’s sharp wit and his dry humor, including the zingers he directed at yours truly. There was the time I sent him the family Easter picture and Bill called me and said, “Well I see you’re not missing any meals!” And the time after the stroke, when he told the reporter of the one-inch blood clot the Wexner doctors pulled from his brain to save his life. “This is Ohio State,” Bill deadpanned. “We do everything big.” Any normal person would not have come back from that stroke. But Bill did. And despite that stroke, and all that he endured with it, Bill’s wonderful wit was with him to the end. A few days before he passed, Bill told the hospice nurse as she readied him for bed, “Now tomorrow morning I’m getting up and shaving and doing my 50 sit-ups.”
A quote in the book sums up the Bill Myles I so loved and will so deeply miss. One of Bill’s white teammates at Drake University tells of the time, in the mid 50’s, their football team was traveling by train and had an early morning layover in Kansas City, where Bill called home. The teammate told me – in his own words – “I had been kicked out of my house by my wicked stepmother, and was on my own.” Bill knew that and to cheer the fellow up, invited his lonely teammate over to the Myles House during that early morning layover. At 6 A.M. that morning, there they were, in the Myles house, with Bill’s mother frying up Bill’s request – “some of Mom’s fried chicken” – for some hungry college boys. The teammate told me “I saw something in the Myles house that day I had never known. I didn’t see black, I didn’t see white, I just saw love.”
Bill Myles. He just showed us all so much love.
Rest In Peace My Friend