Yesterday my good friend Bill Bruckel breathed his last after 94 years of a wonderful life. I was only privileged to know Bill for the last 1/3 of that span. I missed the legendary football career at Avon Central and the University of Rochester, his submarine service in the Pacific during World War II, Harvard Law School and most of the subsequent legal career, even his quixotic political battles when he took on the son of a powerful State Senator to run for county court judge in the early 1960s.
I only got to meet Bill near the end of his legal career when I, as a newly minted attorney, met him at a Bar Association picnic. When Bill discovered that I played tennis we became instant buddies despite our 30+ year age difference. I was honored to host Bill’s “retirement” party in 1983 and am quite sure that few have enjoyed as active and fun a retirement as Bill had for the past 30 years.
Having an extended retirement gave Bill time for lots of adventures besides golf, tennis and poker, three pursuits in which we wiled away more than a few hours together. I didn’t get to go on the legendary raft trip down the Amazon, from which Bill returned with a rare tropical infection– After all, I was a family man with young children!
I do recall a road trip we made on the spur of the moment to Connecticut one night to check on Hurricane damage at my family’s summer home. We drove all night to arrive just as the storm was winding down and the locals were starting to chainsaw the fallen trees. That was quintessential Bill, always up for an adventure despite the concerns of his wife Jane, who would usually just shrug and say, “You can always tell a Harvard man, but you can’t tell him much!”
On that trip, after the hurricane damage was surveyed, we went to the Naval Submarine base in New London where Bill had trained years ago and took in the museum. We toured an old diesel-powered subs where I noted the tight quarters and Bill explained the perils of having to come to the surface every night to re-charge the batteries, something today’s nuclear-powered submariners don’t have to worry about.
A few years later my daughter (and Bill and Jane’s Godchild) Corinna was given a school assignment to interview a veteran. I remember Bill explaining to her why he had chosen the submarine service. “I figured that if anything happened I would be killed and not come home injured or disabled.” Such was the bravery and the fatalism of the Greatest Generation!
When I tried my own hand at politics running for State Assembly in 1986, Bill and Jane were my strongest supporters. I always received great advice from Bill, both political and about life in general. Over the years I would often pass along some of what I came to think of as “Bruckelisms.” In politics Bill taught me to, “Watch what they do, not what they say,” and in life I found that Bill’s assurance that,”90% of what you worry about never happens” was usually true.
Bill played tennis well into his 80s and golf even longer. Ultimately he was unable to do either, but the old poker group still got together regularly up at Morgan View Estates where Bill’s hardness of hearing made for some comical situations, but his mind remained sharp to the end.
Another favorite Bruckelism was often heard at the poker table. When the cards were not running Bill’s way he would point out that, “It’s a long road without any turns!” I always puzzled over that one, but I think it was said in the optimistic sense that no matter how dark things appear, there would be a turn for the better coming soon and usually there was!
Now, Bill’s earthly life has taken its final turn, but our happy memories of his wonderful life, amazing adventures and sunny disposition will keep us smiling on the long road ahead.