We’ve been given a finite number of breaths to breathe, and a finite number of talents to employ, and it seems to me the conundrum of life is figuring out ways to use those talents and opportunities to the fullest before those finite number of breaths run out.
My cousin, Bill Becknell, died last night. Bill was a fascinating, talented, loving man and I’m glad to have spent time with him and Mary Beth, though those times were too few and far between. Bill was a generation older than me, and he lived much of his life in South Carolina, so we didn’t see each other often, but Bill’s life left a lasting impression, and one that I think is germane to this blog about reading and writing…
Bill was a gifted musician and a generous soul. He shared his musical gifts with others, most notably playing for and leading the parish choir at Christ Our King Church, in Mt. Pleasant, SC. His title was Director of Music Ministries (it became his position in 1983), but in visiting Bill there at the church, it was clear that he was more than a director, he was a mentor and friend to those involved in the music of the church.
Bill embraced his talent and honored that gift by pursuing music in many forms, and in sharing that pursuit with others. He seized opportunities to travel and enjoy life and continue to deepen his understanding of music and his own ability, and the joy with which he approached life was infectious.
With Bill’s passing, I’m left to ponder my own fidelity to my talents and gifts. (Isn’t that what we should do to honor our beloved dead? Rededicate the life that WE have left…) There are so many days when I close my eyes for the night knowing that I’ve allowed opportunities–to write, to laugh, to love–slip away. Too many of those days.
I hope that I can be more like my cousin Bill. I hope that I find fewer days where I’m left with that sinking feeling that those finite breaths will one day run their course, and I may not have left behind much that demonstrates my own commitment to my art, my family, my faith, my life.
Bill’s family and friends mourn his passing, but we are all better people for having known him.

May the souls of the faithfully departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace…

Bill Becknell, RIP
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  • mom

    Eric,
    What a beautiful tribute, Bill would have been so proud.

  • margie Moffett

    Thank you, Eric. You said what we were not able to. Our heartbreak is just a family reunion on the other side. We all must make the most of what time we are allotted.

    Love you,
    Aunt Margie

  • Susan and Hunter Hill

    Hi Eric,

    Thank you for writing this… Hunter, my husband, was a good friend of Bill’s. They did the Chattooga River trip every year for the past 30(?) years and Bill was a wonderful mentor for even more years.
    We both will miss him dearly.

    Susan Hill

  • Greg Burns

    I found this site searching for Bill’s name. My wife is a singer in the Christ Our King choir and losing Bill has created chasm that may never be filled. I was just thinking this morning how great Bill was as a person and you could see his greatness through the people around him.

  • Aunt Margie,
    Thanks for reading and let me re-state our love for you and Russ, and our continued prayers for you both!

    Susan,
    That’s a trip that Bill loved! Thank you for stopping by this little blog and posting.

    Greg,
    Your comment about the “people around him” is right on target. It was exactly what I remember about visiting Christ Our King: the people of the choir and the way they responded to Bill…it was a very powerful memory.

  • Steve

    Thanks Eric….I’m still in shock. Just got the news when I came home from work. I would like to share with you one of my many childhood memories of Bill who I called William Ray until we were adults.

    We visited Ray and Ruby one weekend when they lived in Louisa, Kentucky. I must have been about seven years old. Bill had a lemonade stand he and Robert had built, I believe the name of it was “The Busy Bee”. I was fascinated by it and pestered Bill until he set it up out front. Of course we did absolutely no business but just taking the time to do that for me left a lasting impression of the kindness Bill had in his heart at such a early age. Fify two years later I haven’t forgotten. Love and prayers to all that loved and were loved by BIll.

    Steve

  • Cousin Steve,
    Shock is an appropriate word.
    Thanks for sharing that story. “The Busy Bee” sounds just right…
    -e

  • Cami

    Thank you for your words Eric. I cannot express in the how short times I had to spend with him the amazing impact Bill had. He was the example of stewardship of gifts. I will never forget when we stayed there how he would get up very early to go practice organ so that he could play difficult pieces at the end of Mass. He even managed to mentor me a in brief times by giving me Psalm music and teaching me how to do it correctly for Mass. I can only imagine the impact he had on the Parishioners that were with him weekly or more.

    It is wonderful to see others post their experiences and love for him.

    All of the family and friends are in our prayers.

  • David Woods

    Eric,
    Thank you for the kind words. I have known Bill from my High School days with the Wando Choraleers as well as I played drums with him in many Spoleto events. Bill was a kind soul and his passion for music was infectous. I will miss him much but I will always have my personal memories of him in my heart until the time I go as well and then I can share another conversation with him in heaven. Knowing Bill he is already making sure the harps are in tune.
    My prayers will continue for his family.

    David Woods
    Mt. Pleasant, SC

  • Ralph Miller

    I found this site when I googled Bill’s name. I first met Bill while playing in the pit orchestra for a Charleston performance of My Fair Lady some 30+ years ago. Bill was the musical director at the time. I have thought of the experience many times over the years when I have attended mass at Christ Our King Church where Bill served as the director of music. I approached Bill after the Easter Sunday service two years ago to tell him what a wonderful job I thought he had done with the music for the service. As I started to introduce myself to him, he called me by my name and he remembered me from all those years before when I had played for him in that orchestra. I immediately saw the same kind and gentle soul that I had been fortunate to meet many years before.

    I am stunned and saddened by the news of his passing. I have never had any other association with Bill, but I am very happy to have known him. He will be missed. My prayers go out for him and his family.

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  • Bonnie (Sullivan)Trahan

    Eric-Thank you so much for writing such a beautiful tribute to your uncle. My beautiful Mom, Mary Sullivan, sang in the choir at Christ Our King and spoke very highly of your uncle. She was always so proud to be a part of such a wonderful group of Christian voices led by Bill. When my Mom passed away unexpectedly 2 years ago, your uncle attended her wake and shared with us some wonderful stories about his interaction with my Mom over the years. He was able to provide a family that was filled with deep sorrow over losing our loved one, a bit of sunshine to help guide us through that difficult time. When I told my older sister about Bill’s passing, she responded that “Mom will be very happy to see him in heaven.” May God Bless you and your family in your time of need.
    Bonnie (Sullivan) Trahan

  • Joe McIntyre

    When I visited my dad in his hospital room today,he asked me if I heard of Bill passing away.I am not sure why I had not heard the news.Bill and I met when I joined the Christ Our King,I just could not wait to hear him play and see him direct that amazingly talented group of singers and musicians.What a tremendous gift he gave me every Sunday or Holy day.And when I started singing with them I felt like my spirit was lifted as never before in my life,he lead by the best example.
    Joe McIntyre

    • Joe,
      I attended the rosary for Bill tonight. The choir sang two songs at the end, quite beautifully.

  • Nice entry about Bill. He was my music teacher and an inspiration to all of us at Wando High School from 1976-1980 where we sang with him. At the funeral service, those of us who could remember what Christ Our King was like before Bill got there in 1980 noticed how much more beautiful and developed its musical life is now. We will miss him.

    • Thomas,
      I was never there before Bill, but having been in a multitude of Catholic churches all over the country, I know just how special the music at Christ Our King was under his leadership…amazing stuff. The choir and organ and bells all did him proud at the funeral Mass…

  • Becky Heimstead

    Eric, I too found your wonderful piece on Bill when I Googled his name.

    Bill and I met when we were both in the same 8th grade classroom after they moved from Louisa to Shepherdsville, KY. He was my first boyfriend and one of the very best friends I ever had.

    As life will do we went our separate ways and then in 2000 reconnected when he emailed me searching for a mailing address so he could do his Christmas cards. That email was the beginning of a reconnection of our friendship and those are times I treasure.

    I was able to visit Bill and Mary Beth in Mt. Pleasant and we had lunch here in Tampa when they were in the area visiting Mary Beth’s mother.

    I was also able to attend mass and hear that wonderful choir and, when he remembered, Bill would send me CDs of the choir’s concerts. Such angelic music and yet Bill was always looking to make it better, more perfect.

    When Bill called to tell me of his diagnosis I began searching for friends from our high school years and I believe several of them were able to write to Bill before he left us. I also found our college choral director who sent a note as well.

    In trying to stay updated on Bill’s condition I reconnected with Bob and I feel like I have made a new friend and we plan to get together when he and Julie come to St. Petersburg for the winter. Now that you are in Florida perhaps you would like to join us?

    David Isele, composer in residence at the University of Tampa and a good friend of Bill’s, is composing a piece for the dedication of the organ at the University’s new chapel. The piece will be dedicated to Bill. The organ dedication is tentatively set for late January 2011.

    Eric, your thoughts about Bill were beautiful and I am so glad I found them. Don’t stop writing. You have a gift.

    • Becky,
      What a beautiful message to have come across my desk.

      I do hope that when Bob and Julie are in town we can get together, and would be happy to meet you.

      Please let me know more about the organ dedication and the piece dedicated to Bill. I’d love to be around for that, as well.

      You mentioned the Christmas Cards…it’s funny how his was always the very first card we received. My mom tried to beat him to it, but I’m not sure she ever did! What a happy memory, and one of the little ways that Bill will be missed.

      Thanks so much for stopping in and adding to the ever-growing list of memories of our dear friend and cousin.

      -e

  • Mary Beth

    Hi Eric- I don’t know how to thank you for your beautiful writing and beautiful piece about Bill- I have read and re-read it often and have printed it to share with others, but am just now getting the courage to reply. It moves me more than I can tell you- Hope to see you at the reunion in October- Love MB

    • I’m not sure we’ll get to Ohio in October, unfortunately, but we’ll surely stay in touch!

      You remain in our thoughts and prayers,
      eric

  • Victor V. Smalls

    Eric,

    Great words of dedication to life. Mr. Becknell was my music teacher in middle school if memory serves correctly and I can remember that all of us kids looked up to him and enjoyed being around him. Earth’s lost but Heaven’s gain.

    I found out about his passing on yesterday through FB friends remembering days at Wando and Googled his name and found your piece. Again, great job,
    my thoughts and prayers are with the family.

    Victor

    • Hi Victor…sorry you just now found out about cousin Bill…it is hard to believe it’s been over a year. He is still deeply missed, well loved, and fondly remembered. Thanks for your kind words.

  • Nancy Kundinger

    What delightful stories of my good friend Bill. I happened to come across this and just had to read everybody’s’ comments. Not surprised to hear about his many acts of kindness and consideration. He is one of the finest and most talented men I have ever met. He always made time to teach, mentor and advise. In addition, he was a genuine friend and so much fun!
    I am one of those in his choir and am pleased to report that the music program that he developed is still going strong.

    • I’m glad you found these comments, Nancy. Even after all this time, this post about Bill still gets a number of hits every month from people “googling” his name. I think that says something, in and of itself.