My friend Bill Dyer died recently, just shy of his 88th birthday.
He lived alone in a cozy little house in the Sierra Country Club off West Beach Road, looking out at Admiralty Inlet and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
There is something about the Rock that helps people live very long lives, and in some ways Bill was like a lot of other elderly people here.
Fiercely independent, unrelentingly stubborn, an opinion about everything, determined to die on his own terms without a lot of fuss, his mind much younger than his body, and pretty damned healthy until his number came up.
But Bill was not like a lot of elderly Rock dwellers in many other ways. He was born in Michigan to an unwed mother in 1926, then adopted by a wealthy couple who sent him to an expensive boarding school.
There he learned to be an accomplished equestrian and steeplechase rider. As an adult, he moved to Malibu and opened a high-end upholstery business whose famous Hollywood clients included Fred Astaire.
He taught himself to weave and became a world class textile artist. One of his weaving friends and upholstery clients was Ann Meerkerk, of Greenbank rhododendron garden fame. After visiting Mrs. Meerkerk’s home here in the 1970s, Bill fell in love with the Rock and moved here in the 1980s.
Bill was also a gay man when that wasn’t always easy. He met John Weber, the love of his life, in 1960. They were together for 45 years until John’s death in 2005.
When they moved to the Rock, they bought a small farm near Strawberry Point, where they raised alpacas and Scottish deerhounds until age forced them to downsize to a small home in Sierra Country Club.
Like most gay men of their generation, they lived careful and sometimes compartmentalized lives. It was not always safe to be “too gay,” but Bill and John never hid who they were.
Bill was active in the Whidbey Weavers Guild and was well known among the growing number of textile artists on the island.
He also enjoyed his circle of gay friends and he was happy to see their number increase on the Rock in recent years.
A year ago, Bill attended a wedding reception at the Coupeville Rec Hall for two male friends who got married after it became legal in Washington in December 2012.
He shed tears at that party as he thought about all the things that weren’t possible for him and John.
Later, he told me he was satisfied that they had made their own peace in a world that didn’t always understand.
Bill was cremated and his ashes were scattered at a spot in the Saratoga Passage where he had scattered John’s ashes eight years before.
We had a celebration of Bill’s life at our house last month and more than 50 people came — weavers, artists, relatives, friends.
Many of us had not met before, but we quickly shared stories and laughs, and soon enough, we were no longer strangers. We were Bill’s family.
That day, a beautiful little goldfinch was flying around outside our house, tapping its beak against the windows. Somebody said the bird saw its reflection in the glass and pecked at it. But I disagree.
I know it was Bill asking when the cocktail hour would start.
Free as a bird. At last.