On the road again – an Homage to Dr. Robert Williams

Tragically, and unexpectedly, Jackie’s father passed away while we were in London in early August. After hearing the news we cancelled our trip and caught the next flights we could back to Virginia; neither of us have posted any updates since. It has been a nightmare to say the least; it’s a phone call you can never be prepared to receive – especially when so far away from home.

I wanted to dedicate this long overdue post to him.

Jackie’s father’s name was Robert Williams … eh hem … Sorry – **DR.** Robert Williams. He was an ex-military, urologist who graduated from West Point and served 27 years in the Army.

Jackie explained this all to me the first time I was to meet him at her family’s house for dinner about 4-years ago. She continued …

“Just so you know my Dad is a former Colonel of the Army. Don’t slouch and be respectful!”

She seemed anxious and was only half kidding. I assume she knew I would be respectful, but I think she wanted to instill a little fear in me so that I would be prepared.

“And whatever you do – don’t call him ‘Mr.’. It’s ‘Dr.”

To this day I still don’t know what she was so concerned about. Dr. Williams was polite, soft spoken, and kind. He was reserved at the dinner table but had a properness about him that spoke volumes. That being said, you could tell straightaway that he didn’t take well to B.S.

After dinner we moved on to a movie and desserts in the family room.  As we were shuffling rooms he found a chance to pull me aside in the kitchen for a brief one-on-one.

“You do know what I did in the military, right? Did Jackie tell you?”

“Yes. A urologist?”

“That’s right. And you know what a urologist does?”

He made a scissor clipping motion with his two fingers and stared me directly in the eyes. I nodded. My forehead wrinkled.

“So if you do anything to hurt my daughter…”

He purposefully left the sentence hanging to allow a dramatic pause to take its effect. I decided to end the silence.

“I understand, sir. I will take care of your daughter. You have nothing to worry about.”

“Just remember what I said.”

I think, for many people, that encounter could be viewed as “aggressive”. Not me. I found it to be a comical way to make a very important point. He didn’t exactly smile when he said it, but I could see in his eyes it was a sincere request with sharp edge he attempted soften. He loved his daughter helplessly and found a simple way to protect her while he wasn’t around: Medical experience and vivid imagery. I could see where Jackie got her prep strategy! Instilling fear via subtle comedy is a powerful mix.

Since then Dr. Williams had been a strong supporter of Jackie and I, and a champion for our love of travel.

Before we left for our “around the world trip” he bought us a Nikon CoolPix Waterproof camera and said:

“This is a once in a lifetime trip and you’ll want to make sure you get great pictures that you can appreciate for the rest of your lives.”

It was a gift from someone who knew what they were doing. We’ve used that camera EVERYWHERE! His only ask in return was that we take pictures of ourselves standing in front of signs wherever we went, and to send them to him. We were looking forward to seeing the result of what he had in mind, likely a picture book of some kind. Sadly it is I gift we will never see. Nevertheless, we will continue to take pictures of ourselves in front of signs from here on out and create a book at the end of our adventure, just as he would have done.

Dr. Williams traveled extensively; he was a wanderluster in his own right. Not only through his tours in the military, but he made a point to bring Jackie and her sisters along with him to see the world as they were growing up. He took them to places like Rome, Paris and London when they were teenagers, and continued the tradition into retirement. Most recently he took Jackie to Hawaii for some father/daughter time in 2014. It was their 5th visit together. She loved it.

He loved to travel vicariously through us. He did so by either tracking our flights, watching a tiny plane move across his computer screen (a tradition we plan to continue with one another), or by asking us to stop in places he had always wanted to visit (or re-visit) and sifting through the pictures and collecting souvenirs we’d send him. We got him tapestries from India of Hindu gods, pictures of architecture indicative of Turkey, and a medallion of Saint Bernadette from Lourdes, France. Hunting for items he requested became a sort of game for the three of us.

It only feels right that after his funeral Jackie and I made a cross country trip to collect his things in Palm Springs to bring them home. By doing so we completed our westward tour all the way around the world, starting and ending in California. We were lucky enough to meet his friends and loved ones while in Palm Springs and hear about all the sides of Dr. Williams that we hadn’t had a chance to know while he was with us.

So many of the people we met that knew him remembered him as I did: reserved at first but a loving, fair, forgiving and respectful person once he became more comfortable with those around him. It was a testament to him that all of his friends were so kind and welcoming to us. We were invited to dinners, to have drinks, see homes and even had a plate of delicious homemade fudge brought to our door (which was one of Dr. William’s favorites). In light of this tragic time I also got  a chance to get closer with Jackie’s family and had the absolute pleasure to spend a great deal of time with one of them in Palm Springs as we packed up the house together. I like to think of that as his final gifts to Jackie and I as a couple.

Now, over a month and a half later we are back in VA and preparing to start our trip up again. This time we will be moving eastward to complete our second revolution. We are re-invigorated to continue not in spite of Jackie’s father’s passing but as an homage to him. To carry on the love he had to see the world. He had dreams to visit us in Scotland where he wanted to visit Dunnottar Castle, a landmark that is part of his family’s heritage. Even though he is gone we will be completing that dream on his behalf within the next few weeks. It will be an emotional experience. We are also eager to visit South Korea by the end of the year, another of the places he was hoping to meet us.

I hadn’t written or posted anything here or FB since he passed because it honestly hasn’t felt right to do so. But now, as I sit here at BWI about to board our plane to Ireland, I can only imagine how happy he would be that we are carrying on. How proud he would be of how strong Jackie has been through the whole process. How excited he would be that we have found the energy to continue our trip, valuing experiences over things as did he.

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