My Friend Bill

Posted on June 29, 2010


Wedding Invitational
This month, Life in the Boomer Lane and Now Husband lost a dear friend.  Bill was a journalist with the Asbury Park Press, and was the first (and for some time, only) print journalist who was writing about the David Goldman case.  Goldman’s young son Sean, had been illegally held in Brazil since 2004 by Goldman’s deceased ex-wife’s family.  Bill knew of Goldman’s story because Goldman lives in Monmouth County, NJ, fairly close to where Bill lived.

Although a local ABC affiliate out of NY had run a short piece on Goldman, and although another short piece was done by The Today Show, most people never heard of David Goldman, outside of the people who read the long columns that Bill was writing.  When Dateline ran a segment on Goldman’s plight, followed by piece in The New York Times, the Goldman story became Big News, and all the networks jumped in. Congress got involved.  Hiliary Clinton. LBL is surprised there wasn’t a Telethon of Stars to help Goldman pay his ever-mounting legal bills.  But outside of the BringSeanHome website, Bill was never acknowledged.

All the while this was going on, Bill was in the background, staying on top of the story and speaking with Goldman whenever possible.  He would have done more, but he was preoccupied with a slightly more time-consuming project.  Last year, Bill was diagnosed with kidney cancer.  His planned trips to Brazil to interview the family members holding Goldman’s son were replaced with trips to Sloan Kettering in New York for consultations with his oncologist and chemo sessions.

There were hundreds of people at Bill’s funeral, a funeral Bill wouldn’t have ever wanted in the first place.  Bill’s friends trumped him on that one.  Judy, his window, stood in line for four hours, receiving people’s condolences.  Most just wanted to tell Judy a memory some crazy or wonderful (or both)experience of Bill.  Judy listened to each.  She knew they were talking to Bill, not to her.

Before he became a journalist who ferreted out human interest stories like Goldman’s, Bill was, for many years, the sports columnist for the newspaper.  Bill never met a horse race he didn’t like.  When he and Judy married, after a short, whirlwind courtship of 18 years, they did so in the winner’s circle at Monmouth Race Track, officiated by the track chaplain.  Their wedding invitations were mock ups of a racing program.  They called it “The Handleman Invitational For 40 Year Olds and Up.”

Bill was already at the track on the intended day, watching the races, writing his columns, and making his bets.  Judy put her wedding dress on, drove herself to Monmouth and went to the site of the ceremony.  Bill took a long enough break from the betting windows to join her.  After the ceremony, Bill wanted to place a blanket of flowers around Judy’s neck, just like they do for the winning horse at the Kentucky Derby.  Judy declined.

Bill was born in Tokyo and lived in Paris as a child.  He attended a French language school.  He hadn’t been back to either place since.  When my husband and I went to Paris a couple years ago, Bill and Judy were supposed to join us.  Instead, Bill used his travel money to have a new driveway put in.  Usually, his travels almost always just took him to Saratoga, or wherever else the big races were.

If you haven’t realized it yet, Bill was an interesting guy.  Put a cap on the word “interesting” and let your imagination run wild.  Judy has so many crazy stories about her years with Bill that if she wrote a book, few would believe it.  Life with Bill was more than a roller coaster.  Imagine the roller coaster throwing you off, and you narrowly miss being flung into space because you manage to grab onto the seat bar by one hand and you are holding on for dear life and the roller coaster is approaching a rise as high as Everest and… Well, you get the picture.

Bill had gotten this cancer thing.  Much as he loved the races, he never intended to be in one himself.  He couldn’t go to Saratoga this past year, and that really pissed him off.  Cancer stopped his trip to Saratoga, but it didn’t stop the 34 year argument that Bill and Judy had been having, first about Bill’s drinking (he stopped that in 1987) and smoking (that happened one year later), then about his gambling.  Bill countered with his own list of grievances about Judy, and he always made sure he looked startled when Judy made a motion to hug him or hold his hand.  Bill liked to be seen as the Big Lug, the Tough Guy.  But all you had to do was read his Goldman pieces or any of the other columns he had written about the struggles of all the people no one noticed, but should have, to get that Bill noticed.  And after he noticed, he started typing.

Bill’s illness had been tough on Judy.  Her way of dealing with it at times was to keep in mind the ordinary, everyday frustrations and annoyances she has always had about Bill, and to talk about those instead.  That’s what kept her grounded to real life.  A couple months ago, she didn’t do that.  She simply asked, “Can you believe how much I love this guy?”  Yes, Judy, I could.  No surprise at all.

Back in February, while Bill was at home and unable to go anywhere, it was racing day, as usual, at Fair Grounds Racecourse in New Orleans.  In the 7th was a horse by the name of “Handleman,” named after Guess Who.   At 5-2, he was described as a “lukewarm” favorite.  Hey, even the best of us are lukewarm at times.  It’s what makes the victories that much sweeter.

Posted in: Bill Handleman