I flew to England this past week—for 48 hours only! Left on a Wednesday night, returned on a Friday night. A British customs agent asked me why I was staying so short a time—“All this way?” she asked, eyebrow raised. “Yes, to visit a dear friend,” I replied. (And also, I have stuff to do on the weekend here in Boston.) "Besides, it’s faster than flying to California," I noted. “True,” she replied. Where does she live?
Not she, he. “He” is a 91-year-old gentleman named Bill Boughton, and truly one of my favorite people in the world. There are not many people I’d fly 6 hours each way, and three hours worth of train, tube and express train each way to see—not to mention that nice hefty several hundred dollar “tax” (Thanks, British Airways) above and beyond my frequent flyer miles.
Bill could very well be the oldest hemophilia humanitarian in the world. At an age when most people are immobile, or aching, or lamenting, Bill has not lost his joy of living, his quick wit, his desire to help the less fortunate. He is in short, a marvel. He is blessed with good health, excellent joints, but also a resilient and grateful attitude; he appreciates everything he has. And he wants to help others.
|Bill's daughter Emma and the goats!|
How did this charming and witty elder statesman get involved with hemophilia? There’s a tie to Romania. He and his wife in the 1980s wanted to adopt a Romanian orphan, a victim of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, a brutal, heartless politician who enforced multiple births in Romanian women, by denying birth control and insisting they stay pregnant. As a result, thousands of babies were abandoned; many contracted AIDS. During his visit to Romania, Bill happened upon a boy with hemophilia—I hear this kind of story often!—was impressed by the child’s needs and fortitude, and wanted to help. Coming home to Somerset, England, he phoned the chair of the Haemophilia Society, in London. They directed him to me.
So in the early 2000s, I received a surprise call from an articulate man with a British accent: “Hallo!” he started. And an eternal friendship was formed. He wanted to source factor, and heard that I donated some. Eventually we were able to get this boy some factor, and Bill and I conspired together from time to time to help some Romanian children with hemophilia.
|Laurie Kelley and the kid|
I loved chatting with him, first, because he impressed me with his concern for others, especially at his age. Second, the man was downright funny! Witty. There’s nothing like British humor, unless it’s Irish humor (oh, that comment would set him off). The fact that I lived in Boston, home of the Boston Tea Party, where we dumped the King’s tea in the harbor and set off the Revolutionary War, was a source of many jokes between us. He called me a “Yankee” and I called him a “Limey.” Or “Irish Witch” to my “Prince William.” Sometimes he would just call to chat: “I was out on me walk today, love, when I came upon a cow stuck in a ditch. Well, I scrambled down the ditch to help her out!” At his age! He still, at age 91, takes a daily morning walk with his Border Collies Molly and Harry.
When the opportunity came to hold Romania’s first World Hemophilia Day in 2005, my company paid the expenses. And I invited Bill to come and be a guest. It was our first meeting. Seeing him across the hotel lobby, I flashed a huge smile and we hugged; I felt like I had always known Bill. He sat at the head table with the other dignitaries, and spoke about his efforts to help those with hemophilia in Romania.
|Thistle and Martin|
That year we also had our first hemophilia summer camp, courtesy of Adriana Henderson, who founded S.T.A.R. Children Relief, to help children in Romania. Adriana, a Princess Diana look-alike, is a tour de force in making things happen in Romania for children with hemophilia. She and I had collaborated together, and indeed it was she who put together the entire World Hemophilia Day, single-handedly! She invited me and Bill to attend camp. I marveled at first how Adriana pulled everything together, seemingly so effortlessly and perfectly. And second, at Bill—80 something years old and yet he donned a bathing suit and went right into the Black Sea with the boys, playing, teaching them to swim. They loved him. He had taught himself Romanian! He was able to speak with them.
Each night at camp we sat in the dinner hall with a glass of wine and got to know each other better.
|Laurie and Bill at the Air Museum, Yeovil, England|
And when they had the talent show, he insisted that we sing “God Save the Queen.” Well, that was “bloody” hard to do as an American (from Boston, no less!) but we had fun. The boys loved all the joshing around.
Not returning to the annual camp after that, I would have a hard time meeting up with Bill. So I vowed to fly to England annually to visit. I’ve tried to keep that promise, even if it is only for a day or so. I attended his lovely 90th birthday party 18 months ago, at the Lamb and Lark pub in Yeovil, where I got to meet his neighbors, friends and family. His daughter Emma lives with him, and she and I have become great friends.
|Three generations of flight|
I think Bill must be the world’s oldest hemophilia humanitarian, and is easily one of the most interesting people I know. He is easy to visit and be with: witty, gregarious, fun-loving, kind, generous. One of my favorite people ever.
Indeed, I was so interested in his life, I asked him once to put it down on paper. Turns out Bill is quite the writer too! I loved his story so much I published it. I made 20 books for him to share with family and friends. He called it, “My Life in the Royal Air Force.” It ends with the end of WWII.
|Good byes at Yeovil Junction|
Great Book I Just Read
by Elie Weisel
Considered a classic now, Night is the true story of Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel years as a Jewish teen who watches the horrors of genocide unfold slowly in his community. He documents it day by day, step by painful step, the depredation, starvation, beatings, and separations. His mother and sister gone in one moment, his struggle to keep his father and he together in a death camp, through almost any means possible. Once a pious Jewish boy, he confronts God in his heart and cries out: how can such horrors exist? Where is the God he once worshipped? This easy-to-read book is deceptive as it packs a powerful spiritual punch. Perfect reading for the week of WWII’s anniversary. Five out of five stars.