I had to say goodbye to a friend on July 30. It turns out that not only I, but several people close to me, had a parting word of praise for Bill that they wished to share with the world, and especially with his family. Here they are: Blessings and fondest regards to the family and friends of Guillermo (Bill) Enrique Martinez.
I met Bill in the summer of 1996 while he was doing home improvement projects on my mother’s new condo in Anchorage. It was a winsome, carefree summer for me, full of clear, sunny days and happy portents. I was living at home, working part-time and studying psychology at the University of Alaska Anchorage. It was already a great summer, but it got better when I met 62-year old Bill Martinez.
Bill was smart, funny and energetic as a 30-year old. He told us he was going to live to be 125, and we believed him. He quickly became a welcome and familiar part of my home environment as he went about his work through the summer. He was never in too much of a hurry to stop for a bit of conversation as the opportunity arose. He was usually more concerned about enjoying his social environment than about his work schedule.
It only took a month or so for Bill to be informally grafted into my family. He possessed social graces from another era. He was compassionate and remarkably scrupulous, and he flew into my heart under the radar. He was genuinely interested in others’ lives, and he had a rare gift for putting people at ease. In a quite natural way, I was soon sharing personal details about my life with him. He did not seem to mind this at all, and he seldom failed to respond with insightful and encouraging words. Through many conversations with him, I learned that Bill was a passionate follower of Christ.
One evening, having heard that I was without a ride to work, Bill stopped what he was doing and drove me four miles to my job. On the way there, I began telling him about my troubled relationship with God. He listened patiently, and when we arrived at the Italian restaurant where I worked, he sat with me in the parking lot for another 15 minutes and exhorted me to trust in God and never give up.
Bill was the life of the party that hadn’t been thrown in the first place. To be around him was to enjoy rich, free-flowing improvisational comedy. He was not only witty, he had a wealth of stories, which he loved to tell. I never had the slightest doubt that they were true. All of them had the quirky twist of reality to them.
Bill once told me about an acquaintance who had asked for his assistance on a “very small” project, which involved removing several truckloads of construction leftovers and ended up taking several hours. It was hard work, but he helped him and didn’t say a word. When they were finally done and Bill went to leave, the man told him he wanted to express his appreciation, at which point he handed Bill a can of chicken soup. “This is my way of saying thanks,” the guy told him. As he recounted this bizarre story, Bill joked, “I thought, what if he really wanted to express his appreciation? Would he pull out the Minestrone?”
Another story involved a wealthy couple who had hired Bill for several projects at their 5,000-square-foot home. After the third or fourth project, he had gotten to know them fairly well, and they asked him to sit down for coffee with them. After some conversation, the woman told him, “Bill, you’re very good…I want to give you a break.” The woman said this as though she planned to give him a house of his own to fix up or something. The “break” she offered him turned out to be a proposal for him to stay at their home rent free in exchange for his work on a full remodel of their living room. As Bill recapped it, “It wasn’t the kind of break you get every day. It was a crappy break.” Naturally, Bill declined.
From listening to his stories, I could picture him going through life encountering these outrageous characters. As is not uncommon, many people took Bill’s kindness for weakness. I suspect he made his peace with it a long time ago as the acceptable price of showing kindness and giving people the benefit of the doubt. Bill wasn’t poorer for it. I never detected any rancor ― to the contrary, he laughed at the memories (and I along with him!). More than anyone I have ever met, Bill lived the principle of unconditional kindness. It was clear from the way he spoke that he considered his time and resources at God’s disposal to bless whoever might be in need of help. The meaning of giving and its inherent rewards were well settled in his mind.
I had many conversations with Bill over the years, and he managed to consistently surprise me with his knowledge of history, politics and many other subjects. He could communicate more knowledgeably about these fields in English (including US history) than most Americans I have met. This from a man whose first language was Spanish; I can only imagine what it must have been like to talk with him in his native language! I am passionate about history myself. Many were the times when I would encounter him at home as he was finishing up a day of work and launch into a conversation with him wherever in the house we happened to meet. I would eventually discover that my ankles hurt after an hour of replaying Western civilization with him while we stood on the stairs.
I consider myself a person of scruples, committed to giving back to those who have shown kindness to me. However, in the matter of kindness, I could not keep up with Bill. It wasn’t as though he was competing, either. Around ten years ago, I invited Bill to the symphony with me, and he readily accepted. We enjoyed selections from Vivaldi and a few other composers performed by Angel Romero and the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra. The acoustics were marvelous; even against the sounds of the entire orchestra, the sounds of Angel Romero’s guitar came through crisply. Our seats were so close to the platform that I could discern Romero’s features perfectly. He was a handsome gentleman of about sixty with a full head of graying hair.
Afterward, Bill insisted that I accompany him back to his apartment for a meal. We visited while he prepared dinner. His refrigerator was rather bare, but he made up for it with successive courses. Apparently he had thoroughly enjoyed the performance, because he didn’t stop feeding me for two hours! Eventually I had to beg off on account of the hour and my distended stomach.
Bill frequently regaled me with stories of his youth. He had a passion for life, and I nearly always felt the impact of his experiences because of his gift for telling stories. He often talked about his experiences as a sailor in Argentina. He proudly showed me photographs of him standing on the prow of huge naval vessels, inches away from massive mounted guns. I heard stories about his early years in America, when he was a young man working as a janitor in the Pacific Northwest. At the time, he was just getting on his feet, scrabbling about with visa issues and living arrangements and saving money to bring his family to Seattle. Bill may have had limited means, but God was smiling on him. While he was still earning a very modest income, he met a kind Jewish couple who owned a house on Mercer Island that they sold to him on quite favorable terms.
If Bill liked you, he would go out of his way to help you get where you were going. Over the years, he often employed me as an assistant when I needed extra income. I got the impression that he often did this more for my benefit than for his. He was a giver and sought constantly to impart wisdom and encouragement to those who had open hearts and minds. Once, sensing that I was stalled in my personal life, he spoke to me about the possibility of my accompanying him to Argentina sometime in the future. He described the beauty of its lands and told me of his plans to build a large rooming house on his property there. Even as his time on earth was coming to a close, he was still buying building materials and making plans. His was a life well lived.
I will miss you, Bill.
BILL MARTINEZ (1934–2012 R.I.P.)
It was sometime in 2002 that Bill Martinez came to live at my condo in Anchorage. I had known Bill for five years or so at the time, and he had done work for me, both at the house I lived in for 25 years, and at the condominium I purchased after selling my house in 1996. Bill did all kinds of construction work: painting, sheetrock, tile and brick work, flooring, etc., as well as all manner of household repairs.
My son, Doug, had moved out of the condo in 2001, not long before Bill began looking for a place to live. He asked me if he could rent Doug’s now vacant bedroom on the ground floor of the condo. I was very hesitant to acquire a roommate, which in my mind was someone who would be constantly underfoot, compromising my treasured privacy and solitude. But Bill assured me he did not plan to use my kitchen and would therefore have no reason to come upstairs to my living area unless he was doing some work for me. So, with some misgivings, I finally agreed, and he moved into Doug’s former bedroom. Happily, I soon discovered that Bill was not in my way at all. In fact, most of the time I barely noticed he was there. He worked long hours seven days a week for the first several years he lived here, so he wasn’t even around until seven or eight most evenings. And he was quiet. The only sounds I heard from downstairs were his television, his music, or his end of telephone conversations, usually in Spanish. He ended up staying here for nine years.
A couple of years into this arrangement, Bill approached me and asked if I’d mind if he built a little kitchenette at the back of the garage so that he could prepare meals for himself. I didn’t mind at all, and we split the cost of the materials for that project. I’m not sure what he did for meals before he had the kitchenette; I think he must have eaten out most of the time.
Even though I didn’t see or hear much of him, I did run into him on a daily basis as I came and went. And what a character he was! His full name was Guillermo Enrique Martinez, but most of his friends in the U.S. just called him Bill. He still had many family members in his native Argentina, and they all called him by his middle name, Enrique. He was very easy to be around. He was mild-mannered and gentle, very patient, and had a great sense of humor. He was also a true artisan. He did many projects for me over the years (including a minor remodel to my condo), and he did meticulous and beautiful work for a reasonable price. He was always happy when he was working. He had an old portable radio, splattered with paint, that went everywhere with him, and he played music whenever he was working. He loved classical music, especially opera.
Over the years, Bill and I became good friends. We had many conversations during those nine years about politics, history, religion, and a myriad of other subjects, but we didn’t really socialize much. Occasionally, I would invite him upstairs to share a meal with me, and every once in a while we would have lunch together at his favorite local haunt, Taco King. A couple of times over the years I had an extra ticket to a concert, and once he had an extra ticket. On those occasions, we went together.
In 2011 Bill was diagnosed with brain cancer and went to Argentina for treatment. He had surgery, but it was a type of cancer that was difficult to cure. Sadly, he died July 30, 2012, about a year after he was first diagnosed. I’m sorry he is gone, but I was thankful to learn that he experienced a peaceful death—at home being cared for by family and friends and without pain.
I feel privileged to have known Bill Martinez and to have been counted as one of his friends. During the years I knew him, I learned something important from him. Unlike many of us, Bill was content with the hand life had dealt him. He never complained about his circumstances; he accepted what came with equanimity.
Rest in peace, my friend.