There is no way to painlessly face death. Better yet, there is no painless way to learn about the death of a dear friend.
Last Saturday, around 1 a.m., was that kind of night except this time, the manner in which the sad news was handed down, was of a high-tech nature. And, as I sit here today, the pain was not lessened by the Facebook Messenger from his cousin.
Bill Gronroos was a friend of mine. We first met on St. Patrick’s Day 1987, my first day on the job at WGIG AM-FM in Brunswick, Georgia. On the air, he was known as Bill Edwards, because he just thought it was catchier than Gronroos.
Little did he know it that day, but Bill would go on to serve as somewhat of a mentor to me. We endured an ownership change followed by subsequent layoffs and format changes at the station.
I would also go on to learn he was quite the jokester, artist and frustrated musician.
In his career, he would go on to spend hundreds of hours on the air, make hundreds, if not thousands, of radio commercials and even get to do some freelancing with the big boys at one point in his life. At one stint in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he was contracted to be the in-store voice for Woolworth’s department store. I remember walking through the old Woolworth’s at Regency Square Mall one time and hearing Bill on the overhead speakers advertising Woolworth products. It made me smile.
Bill was quite the example of a kind human and the embodiment of what it means to be a true friend. He used to call me once a week. On Dec. 2, we got to go to a play together about Buddy Holly, which was right up his alley since he was such a music fan.
In the days since learning of his passing, it’s brought up all of the others who have gone before me and, while thinking, I’m reminded of my mother. Bill had something in common with my mother.
As a kid, back in the day when people used to “drop by for a visit,” no one would leave my Mama’s house with empty hands. “Here, Betty, don’t you want some pecans?” “Here, Margie, don’t you want some peas; I just picked a whole bushel?”
Bill was like that. Every time we’d connect, whether in Brunswick or in Jacksonville, he’d bring me some sort of gift. It would range from a book to a DVD or a bootlegged CD or album. And each time, I’d gratefully accept and feel like a heel for not reciprocating. No quid pro quo was expected. He was simply a giver.
An only child, Bill’s first cousins were like siblings, rather close and always in constant communication. Last year, when his cousin Amy died of breast cancer, he sadly told me that he was beginning to see a lot of people his age die and I could tell he was saddened and concerned.
When he called me on Jan. 12, he had a cold and was coughing pretty bad. I told him to go to the doctor. That’d be the last time we talked. He always ended the conversation the same way, “Tell Beth I said hi and give Nelson (our dog) a pat on the head for me.”
And, as I grow older, I know like Bill, I will see “people around my age” pass away. I also realize, I have a lot of phone calls to catch up on.