Sunday, May 27, 2007

Bill Maddex ז"ל

Bill was niftar this past shabbes. When a friend of mine came to prospie at the UofC he met Bill in the kitchen. Bill warned Adam with complete seriousness, "You might not want to come here, there are a lot of really weird people."

Bill was unique in a community noted for uniqueness. He tenured seventeen years over twenty-three and left a mark on all who knew him. He played twenty year chess games, he read thousands of books, he knew tens of thousands of baseball statistics. All effortlessly. He was, takka fucking nuts in all the right ways. In many ways he represented all the best that Hyde Park and the UofC offers. He was abrasive, but gentle, harsh but engaging. He would never let a fellow interlocutor off easy. I remember one shalush shudes when he turned a particular grad student into a gelatinous puddle for questioning the fossil records ability to verify evolution. Bill gave him at least two chances to back down. Then he let him have it. Bill would even correct personal stories I would tell; he knew that much.

He was almost mythical. You can tell people of this Bill who works at the Co-op and repairs bikes, but could school a good number of the faculty with one intellectual arm behind his back. No one would believe you. Who would believe a man who read ten thousand books before he was forty? Bill just wasn't like others. He was singular.

I don't know why Bill deigned to talk to me or even, dare I say, befriend me. I never really knew why I merited his company. I just realized one day that his, "Do you know what you are talking about?!" was not hostile, but the rhetoric of engagement. When I was applying to grad school this fall, he had more recommendations of faculty to work with than most professors in the field I had met with. One summer I got to sit in on a Shmuli-Bill three hour long conversation about the '04 Illinois Senate race, baseball and Iowa federal politics in the 20's. When I was foolish enough to ask how they knew all this trivia, they looked at me with stupefaction. "I don't know, we just read." I admired his intellect, I admired his commitment to his family and I admired his strength of character.

As I remarked this morning to Larry, they don't make 'em like they used to. Larry replied, "I don't think they ever made them like that."

Our deepest sorrow extends to Jen and Shaya. The family will be sitting shiva in Eugene, OR.


jonny goldstein said...

Bill was a good guy. I grew up down the block from him in Oregon and he is very much woven into the fabric of my years there. Though I hadn't seen him in many years (we both had a similar instinct to put some miles between us and our hometown), your description of him bears out the person I knew. Direct, eclectic, curious, generous. Thanks for putting some of your memories in print. I'm sorry I won't get to see him again.

Anonymous said...

I want to clarify that I only know trivia in a couple silly areas. Bill knew everything.


Anonymous said...

I just heard about Bill's death today. I just saw him last month and he seemed much better than he'd been. He was cheerful and full of his enthusiasms and about to drive across the country. It's just so sad.

- Heather

Bad Cohen said...

I've been sitting Shiva with Bill's family for the last several days. Everybody has something wonderful to say about his brilliance and intensity, something I remember about him from childhood. Bill was seven years older than me, and my last memory of him must have been somewhere around the time I was Bar Mitzvah. His parents have been there for my family through thick and thin; I grive especially for his son and not-yet-born child.

Evan Kimble said...

Like Jonny, I am another childhood neighbor of Bill's. We went to B'nai Brith summer camp together prior to my 5th grade. I remember at the end of the two week camp, all my counselors gave me was a certificate for telling really bad variations on "why did the chicken cross the road" whereas Bill received a giant, hand-made, shellacked faux matchstick with a long dedication for being a 'master meteorologist' and an expert on pretty much every other topic relating to the natural world. I was impressed by and happily jealous of his unusual object of honor. Bill, I will miss you--in your sudden passing, you've taught me again about the importance of kindness. Blessing on your family - love, Evan Kimble

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Zev. You're spot-on, not surprisingly. (Except, perhaps, for the claim about 10,000 books, to which I can't help but think Bill would respond, "State your source." :-)

To your fine hesped, I wanted to add one other dimension that many of Bill's friends only glimpsed. That was his relationship with Shaya. My fondest memories of Bill are of him pulling Shaya in the Burley bike trailer, or "wrenching" (doing bike repairs) with Shaya, or baking bread with Shaya....Memories of Bill answering Shaya's miriad questions, and also of his telling him, "Explanation has to end somewhere."

I believe fatherhood was the great transformative experience of his life. The void he leaves aches.


Zev said...

Thanks for the comment Jen.

I think I once asked Bill how many books he had read and he just gave me a rough estimate of 10,000 (although I would naturally assume he was low-balling the number). Unfortunatly my memory is not as good as his so I could be in err.

As for the part about being a great father, that's why I included the line about my admiration for his dedication to his family. I did not have any particularly witty anecdotes to include, but I can only remember a handful of times I saw Bill without Shaya (after he was born, of course). You could see that Bill was always deeply happy to be around Shaya; Bill was never short or impatient. I think many of us recognized what a great father he was.