Friday, March 20, 1998
Big Tex ready for showdown
with cancer

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Bill Maloy, here with Clyde, was a teacher and coach at area high schools for 30 years.
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He forgot to put this in his obituary: ''Nobody messed with Big Tex.'' Bill Meloy is Big Tex. He wrote his obituary in long hand and dropped it off at the Enquirer.

He listed details of his life on the front and back of a sheet of homemade stationery. Even picked the funeral home. But he left the dates and times for his visitation empty. Those are to be announced. I was intrigued. Nobody ever writes their own obituary. Who has the guts?

Bill does. He figured his time was up. Cancer was messing with him.

What started as spots on his fair skin, a gift from his Irish ancestors, turned into skin cancer. He thought his doctor had caught it in time. But somehow the cancer spread to his spine, his liver, his lungs and his brain. The insidious disease was doing to him what no student had ever dared during Bill's 30 years of teaching high school and coaching football, track, baseball and basketball at Moeller, old Courter Tech, Withrow, Aiken and Woodward. Cancer was messing with the man they call Big Tex.

''My oncologist tells me if I respond to chemo, I might prolong my life by years. If I don't, then I have a few months left.

''So, I thought I'd better get this obit on file. I wanted to spare my relatives the grief of putting something together on the old boy.''

Bill says this and plops his 6-foot, 4-inch, 65-year-old frame into his lounge chair. A day of visitors to his Oakley home, doctors' appointments and the combined efforts of taking a shower, getting dressed and walking down a flight of steps to meet me have left him drained.

''I've lost 66 pounds since October 1,'' he said. ''I weigh 207. I've been weak and off my appetite.

''Excuse me,'' he said closing his eyes and holding himself very still.

''I'm light-headed and having trouble with nausea.

''That,'' he muttered, nodding toward a plastic pail on the floor near his chair, ''is what the bucket's for.''

He said he's not the man he was when he was teaching and coaching. ''I was big and tough, and the kids - mostly ruffians - knew it.'' He was not afraid to swat them. He still has his paddle. Solid oak and stained with tape around the handle, it carries a well-used look on the business end.

''I swatted Dave Parker for skipping classes when he was playing baseball at Courter,'' Bill recalled. ''I used to swing it three or four times in the air, just to make sure they knew what was coming. Then I blasted him.''

Mr. Parker, future star of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds, didn't even say ''Ouch.'' But he did pass the word along: ''Don't mess with Big Tex.''

The wave of nausea past, Bill went back to talking about writing his own obituary.

In it, Bill listed his survivors, his brothers and their wives, and his nephew and nieces, his friends and their wives. He noted his Navy service aboard a destroyer during the Korean War.

''If a guy knows there's a good chance he's going to kick off pretty quick,'' he said, ''the least you can do is get things in order and write your obit. Doesn't everybody do that?''

Not hardly. Most people dread dealing with their own mortality. They just can't face the end. That's why so many people die without writing their will, much less their own obituary.

''It's not that hard,'' Bill said, as if he were talking about writing a grocery list. ''Only took me a half hour.''

He used a piece of the stationery he made by gluing his favorite Ralph Waldo Emerson quote on a blank sheet of paper ''and making a ton of copies.''

Bill loves the quote. To him, Emerson speaks the truth.

And as I read the quote with the retired teacher, I got quite an education. Emerson's words seemed a checklist for real success in life. Slowly, I began to understand how this man, who was clearly in misery, could happily write his own obituary.

''Laugh often and much . . .''

Bill cackles at the mention of the Three Stooges poking each other in the eye.

''Appreciate beauty''

Bill lives for the next sun rise.

''Leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition.''

Bill never fathered a child. ''I came close to marriage but never made it. So, I didn't make the first one. And I didn't make the last one about redeeming a social condition either. But I do have a garden patch of roses, tulips and daffodils.''

''Win the affection of children.''

At family gatherings he sits in the kitchen with his nieces and nephew. As a group, they cannot stop laughing when they're with their Uncle Bill.

In Emerson's terms, then, Bill approaches his death figuring his life has been a success.

Before writing the obituary, Bill said, ''I wondered if I had accomplished anything.''

Now, he knows he did.

Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.