Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Before I took my mother out of the rehab facility in Washington, Pa., she wanted me to take her to see an orthopedic surgeon to see if he would give her a total knee replacement to repair damage she did to her right knee playing basketball at Bethany High School. She had seen the same doctor a few years before she had her stroke, but he refused to do the surgery then because she was a high-risk patient. Of course, Mom’s stroke made it less likely that he would agree to the surgery.
We were both sad when he gave us the news that I expected. I was constantly encouraging Mom to do everything she could to overcome the partial paralysis caused by her stroke. She was a fighter, so I didn’t have to encourage her too much. I moved Mom to Bluefield with us in March of 1992. We could get out and do some things. She liked the baseball games at Bowen Field that summer, but by the next summer, the cataracts she had in both eyes clouded over. Every time she heard the sound of the crack of the bat, she was petrified with fear. Her loss of eyesight took baseball out of the picture for us.
Mom’s attending physician at the time sent us to see Dr. Ted Werblin in Princeton. She had a couple of office visits before Dr. Werblin scheduled her for a series of surgical procedures to help her vision. At the time, Mom was also starting to show signs of macular degeneration. My Aunt Aldene used to say: “Ah, the golden years,” and we all laughed when she did.
Dr. Werblin scheduled the first surgery, and I was a little uneasy when we went to register early in the morning of the day of the procedure. I wheeled Mom into the cubical, answered the questions, explained that Mom could hear just fine, and said I was only there to sign paperwork as her durable power of attorney. The Princeton Community Hospital staff member in the office started directing her questions to Mom.
At one point during the interview, the staffer asked: “In the event of an emergency, who do you want us to contact?” and my mother answered without hesitation: “The undertaker.” The hospital staff person sat up, tried to catch her breath for a moment, and Mom finished her thought. “Bill’s going to be here with me the whole time, so if there’s an emergency here that he can’t handle, just call the undertaker. Bill’s got his card in his wallet.”
I did have Gene Rush’s business card in my wallet. He has the funeral home in Rogersville, Pa., and he served our family when my dad, sister and brother died. Gene and I were in high school together. I got tickled by mom’s response, but I was also moved that she thought I could handle any situation that might arise. It became an awesome responsibility that I hadn’t thought about before.
I stayed with Mom through the preliminary stages, but I had to let her go when Dr. Werblin started the operation. As I was waiting in the hall, Bill Sheppard walked up to me and asked who I had in the hospital this time. Bill made rounds frequently each day. We bumped into each other at least twice before when my wife had surgery. By that time, I had known Bill for a decade, and we teased each other about the rivalry between Princeton and Bluefield.
He must have seen something different in my eyes that morning, because we didn’t joke at all. He focused on reassuring me that everything would be OK. He was right, of course. Everything was OK, and mom had three more eye surgeries with Dr. Werblin, and two knee surgeries with Dr. Ned Litz, who also worked to provide Mom with the best possible quality of life she could have with her condition.
In December of 1995, I was working as an assignment editor at WVVA-TV, and Kevin McGraw thought it would be a good thing for he and I to do a pre-taped year-end wrap-up in order to give the staff either Christmas or New Year’s Day off. I went to WVVA in September, and by the end of December, Tom Colley and I had patched things up and I was on my way back to the newspaper in January 1996.
During the taped conversation, I mentioned that change was on the horizon “with my friend Bill Sheppard” no longer at the helm of PCH. About three days later, I received a letter from an angry viewer who wrote me a critical letter, questioning my integrity and saying that the reason that businesses get away with everything was because journalists like me befriended them.
All I could think about was how nice Bill was to me when I needed reassurance at a time when I was feeling insecure and I wondered how the letter-writer defined friendship. I consider friends to be people who are there for you when you need them. Bill Sheppard was that kind of friend for me, and I’ll always appreciate it.
Bill Archer is senior editor at the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.