If anyone in this restless, on-the-move family could be described as a citizen of the world, you truly fit that description. Some of us, after a period of moving from place to place, eventually established firm roots in a local community and settled down. Sort of. Your community of friends and family is dispersed across several continents, as are all the places that have had special meaning to you: the savannas of central Africa, the Swiss Alps, the rugged Colorado Rockies, the Alaska Range, the ancient Appalachians and most recently, a certain beautiful place in western Ukraine.
Your very first long journey was made in utero. Conceived in the Congo, you were a large bump in Mom’s belly in 1954 when we flew from Kananga to Kinshasa on a two engine Sabena passenger plane. After a few days we went on to Accra, where we visited Uncle Roy and his family, then to Paris for a couple of days. That’s where the incident with a helium balloon first made me conscious that Mom was carrying a baby in her belly. I guess we had gone into a shop that carried maternity clothes, and when we left, the sales lady gave us kids a balloon that carried the name of the shop emblazoned with the words, “Tout pour la future maman.” As one who never wanted to draw attention to herself, Mom was embarrassed to be a walking advertisement for a shop that advertised “everything for the expectant mother.” We hurried back to the hotel, and she wouldn’t let us carry the balloon outside our room any more, not even this very special helium balloon that stayed in the air.
On July 26, 1954, not long after we got to Richmond, your were born at St. Luke’s Hospital. Your life’s journey began in earnest then, and you’ve been traveling ever since. I’ll never forget how excited I was to have a baby brother - finally - and how happy I was to cuddle and play with you throughout that first year of your life. Changing your diapers - not so much - but I was more of an observer than a participant in that chore. A year later, when our family returned to the Congo on the Belgian freighter, the S. S. Tervate, at age nine I was the eldest of a bunch of missionary children on that ship, and you were the youngest. Fortunately, the captain had seen to it that the open railings around the entire passenger deck were covered with chicken wire, so that none of the children would fall overboard. You were just beginning to take your first steps, and Mom joked that you literally walked across the Atlantic Ocean with either Dad or her holding on to you, swaying with the motion of the ship as it plowed through the waves. When we arrived in the Congo, you were welcomed enthusiastically by all our Congolese friends and were given the Tshiluba name traditionally given to a boy born after three girls, Ngalamulume. During the next four years you and two of your older sisters, Carolyn and Charlotte, played with your Congolese friends and enjoyed family vacations at Lake Munkamba. I missed out on a lot of those experiences, as I was away at boarding school, except for vacation times, so I don’t have very many clear memories of you in those years.
You were five years old in 1959 when we went back to Richmond for another furlough. We took a river boat down the Congo River and crossed the Atlantic again in another Belgian freighter. That was the trip when Dad ordered some strong cheese after a meal, and when the waiter put it down on the table near you, you sniffed the air and loudly declared, “Shomebody shtinksh!”, a phrase that became part of the family lexicon and a cause for laughter for years after that. You were making us laugh at an early age! That was also the trip when you and Charlotte disappeared one day, and when Mom ran out on the deck calling for you, the captain’s wife leaned over the railing on the upper deck to say that you were floating a toy boat in the captain’s bathtub. Mom was, of course, mortified, but Madame assured her that she had invited you into their cabin.
That year, 1959-’60, we lived in Richmond for a year, then in Lamesa, Texas as we waited for the post-independence chaos in the Congo to calm down. When we finally returned to the Congo just before Christmas to join Dad, who had preceded us, our flight from Brussels made a brief stopover in Khartoum. As we sat in the airport lounge and drank lemonade, you wrote a post card to Granddaddy Cleveland back in Lamesa. You were just beginning to read and write that year, and had been introduced to the basal readers we all used in those days. The main characters in the stories were Dick and Jane and their dog Tip. Sitting in the Khartoum airport in the middle of the Sahara Desert, you made a profound observation and shared it in the post card, “Dear Granddaddy, Tip is not here. Love, Billy.” While we lived in Lubumbashi for the next seven months, you and Charlotte continued your education in the local public school, switching suddenly from English to French. You survived and were probably better off for that experience.
When we picked up and moved again in 1961, we all had to make another big cultural adjustment for the fourth time in a year, as we continued our education in British colonial schools in Northern Rhodesia. There you eventually joined the Boy Scouts and had adventures that prepared you well for a life in the great outdoors, learning skills that undoubtedly helped you in your long career as a surveyor. Again I missed most of those years with the family, as I went to Texas to finish high school and university. You all came back to the US in 1964 for a short furlough, and you again transitioned into a new school and culture for a few months before returning to a now independent Zambia for three more years. In 1968 you came back to Texas for a few months, then moved to Switzerland, where you entered the International School, plunging into a new curriculum and a new culture. Again.
At Ecolint you formed most of the strong friendships that have endured to this day. What a gift those friends have been! And how fortunate that you could live with Phil Mellen’s family and graduate from Ecolint after Dad died. When you eventually returned to the U.S., after about a year of trying to find your way in this American culture that had never defined you, you found a job as a lowly lineman on a survey crew with the Virginia Dept. of Transportation. This experience and a few months trekking around the mountains of Colorado, Wyoming and Nevada with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) launched you into a lifelong career as a surveyor. As you worked your way up the ladder and learned new technical skills, you were on the road much of the time, taking jobs all over the western states, including Alaska, and around the world - in Pakistan, Oman, Chad, Argentina, Australia, and on an oil rig in the gulf of Mexico, to name a few places. I’ll never forget being totally surprised by a phone call from you one day. “Where are you calling from?” I asked. “I’m in Chad in the middle of the Sahara Desert, and I’m calling you on a cell phone. It’s a new kind of phone that isn’t connected to a land line.” That was my introduction to cell phones.
During those years you met Sharon and expanded the family with two lovely daughters, Elise and Sierra. All that traveling and moving around must have been hard on the family, just as Dad’s long stretches away from home posed challenges for us, but I know you were a proud dad who did all you could to provide for your family, and you did a good job!
The changes of the past few years, as difficult as they have been, led you to Ukraine and brought Tanya into our ever expanding family. Thank you! We wish the happiness you found with Tanya could have lasted longer. It has been such a beautiful relationship and one that will have enduring memories.
And so, little brother, your journey on earth has come to an end, ironically just a short distance from where it began 67 years ago. You fought hard to stick around for a few more years, but your body could no longer hold on to that big generous spirit so full of love and laughter and hope. Wherever this next leg of your journey is taking you now, you must know that you are leaving behind a lot of people who care deeply about you. You have set the bar high, but we will do our best to carry on and to ensure that your grandchildren know about the fascinating life that you have lived and what a kind, funny and loving man you have been.
Go in peace, Brother. We miss you, and we will always hold you in our hearts.