I’ve needed to write this for about a month, but of course I’m behind. You’ll notice I haven’t written the post from Christmas, and that needs to be written too, but this needs to be written first.
Late last month, I got the shocking news that Bill Vastis had died. Bill was someone I met 20 years ago, and then would see from time to time over the years. He seemed to know everyone and had traveled everywhere. He had one of those personalities that drew everyone in. He was willing to try anything, and I don’t know a thing at which he didn’t excel.
I have to tell the story of how I met Bill, mostly because it’s a chance for me to make fun of myself. Almost 20 years ago, eek, I worked as a counselor at CNIB SCORE camp and he was our boss. I was still in high school, and when I told the folks at my high school that he was my boss, their response was “Oh I remember him. Hey! He might be shorter than you!” As I have said before, I’m kind of short. So I thought maybe he was a couple inches shorter than me. I thought nothing more about it.
On the day I met him, I came into a room full of chaos and people moving around. I heard someone say “Hi, I’m Bill,” and it sounded like he was sitting down. I opened my mouth to crack a joke about how he must be having fun greeting everyone from a wheely office chair when I heard an echo of a memory in my head. “He might be shorter than you!” I reeled my office chair joke in fast, and it’s a good thing I did, because Bill, at full height, was just over 4 feet tall. That would have been a terrible way to meet my boss.
It turned out he was not at all sensitive about his height, although if I had said that stupid thing, he probably would have just told me that no, this was his full height, and I would have felt really, really, really stupid. We went to Sportsworld as a fun activity when Sportsworld was still a thing, and Bill would gleefully ride the kids’ rides because those were the only rides he could get on. I remember him riding the fire engine and vigorously ringing the bell. I remember how he impressed everyone by reaching the very top of the climbing wall.
I remember one night, before we went to a Japanese restaurant, they were going to teach us how to eat with chopsticks. Maybe Bill was just a really good actor, but he told us that he didn’t know how to use chopsticks either, but he was going to learn. He struggled for a bit, and then he got it, and said “This is wicked!” and after that, he had it down. This was Bill in a nutshell. If he decided to learn something, he figured it out and rocked it. He seemed to enjoy all of whatever he set his mind to conquering.
I didn’t talk to Bill a ton over the years, but whenever I did, it was a fun and interesting conversation. He was always doing something or going somewhere interesting. When he passed away, I was amazed at how many people of all ages knew him and had a story to tell about how he impacted their lives. Going at 46 seems entirely too soon, but he sure filled that brief life.