On Sept. 10, 2018, the following was posted as part of my column:
I have had the privilege of knowing Walter and Billie Marie Thayer, a delightful couple who live in Little Rock, for 36 years.
High school sweethearts, Walter and Billie married in Oklahoma City on September 10, 1948. If you need help with the math, that’s 70 years of marriage they are celebrating.
They moved to Arkansas in the 1960s where Walter enjoyed a long and distinguished career with the Small Business Administration and Billie worked part-time in the purchasing office of a local hospital while raising two daughters.
I married their older daughter in 1984.
Walter and Billie are faithful members of Immanuel Baptist Church, avid bridge players and voracious football fans. Don’t even think of calling or dropping by when the University of Oklahoma is playing on TV. And if Oklahoma happens to lose, give them a few hours to get over it.
As for the bridge playing, we still play for hours on end when we go visit them and they are better players than I’ll ever think of being. (Thankfully, they are very patient with me and still give me pointers, which I sorely need).
They have been stellar grandparents to our three children and their other three grandchildren. Although it saddened them when we moved here from Little Rock in 1997, they never missed a beat, continuing to be involved in our lives. We welcomed their many visits.
They made their last trip here when our daughter married three years ago, but we all continue to visit them, and that includes their two great-grandsons who were born last year.
I could fill this space with countless stories, but I’ll simply tell you it’s been my high honor to be their son-in-law. After all this time, I really feel more like their son.
Today, along with other family members and friends, I send them my very best wishes, with great love and admiration. Boomer Sooner!
Sadly, some two years later, I am about to say my final “Boomer Sooner” to both of them.
Walter’s health deteriorated significantly over the last couple of years, and on October 9th he was hospitalized for dehydration and pneumonia. He went to a rehabilitation center for a short time before being re-admitted to the hospital in early November.
Before he was about to transition to Hospice, he tested positive for COVID. My wife and her mother had been with him. Because of their exposure, they had to immediately quarantine. Walter passed away, alone on a COVID floor, the next day.
My wife and mother-in-law both subsequently tested positive. My wife came through it with mostly mild symptoms, but her sweet mother did not fare as well. She died Thanksgiving night, one day short of two weeks after her husband of 72 years passed.
There are countless side stories, such as how my mother-in-law mourned her husband alone before she was admitted to the hospital for her own symptoms, and how I left home while my wife quarantined.
I ate Thanksgiving dinner outside on our deck on one side of our kitchen’s picture window, while she ate inside on the other. (This was just a few hours before she got the news about her mom).
As I write this, I am preparing a eulogy I will deliver at a joint graveside service in Arkansas for my in-laws over the weekend. Although painful, it will once again be my honor to express my love and admiration for the parents of my spouse, two great people whose memory I will cherish the rest of my life.
Well-meaning folks have commented to us that maybe it’s kind of cool they ended their lives only a couple weeks apart. Someday we might look back and agree with that.
But today it is little comfort. My father-in-law had been ill for quite some time and his body was worn out. My mother-in-law, on the other hand, was still spry and vibrant until this horrendous virus entered her body. It’s still hard to believe she is gone.
Over the months as I have occasionally written here about the coronavirus, I never imagined I would eventually have firsthand knowledge. But it finally hit home.
On behalf of these two special family members, I would ask you to continue to follow the CDC guidelines. Wear a mask. Stay appropriately distanced from others as much as possible. Wash your hands frequently.
The science has shown this will slow the spread of the virus and will, quite simply, save lives.
A vaccine is coming. It looks like some people right here in Williamson County will be getting it this very month. Better days are ahead, and in 2021 we will begin to return to a sense of normal.
Surely, until then, we can hang on and do our part. Can’t we?
Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father, father-in-law and grandfather. Email him at [email protected].