William Magruder Maury November 1st, 1939 – April 12th, 2013
My father lived 73 ½ years overflowing with life. His vibrance is impossible to summarize in a few words, but in the past few weeks many of you have reached out with memories and descriptions of Bill’s personality that paint a wonderful sketch. These are a few of your words. He was larger than life. He was big. He was loud. He was interesting. He left quite an impression. He was like a bull in a china shop, on roller skates. He was brazen. He was a rabblerouser. A rascal. A tremendous, long-time friend. He thrived on curiosity, on knowing and understanding everything he encountered, and loving everyone who was dear to him. To paraphrase Whitman, he was large, he contained multitudes.
Bill Maury was a father to Rebecca and Brooke Maury, a stepfather to Andrea and Adele Lonas and Tarim Chung, a grandfather to William Golden Lines and Tassew and Yetta Lorimor, a husband to Trammell, a kid brother to Richard Maury and Anne Costello, and big brother to Sarah Swan. He was an uncle to many nieces and nephews. He was a dear friend to many, a colleague, a neighbor, and a patient and loving master to two Rufuses – the nice Rufus and the mean Rufus. He was a historian, a voracious reader, a baseball fanatic. He was a fierce competitor, whether it was an early morning tennis match with Cordell, a foot race with his son, a debate with my Uncle Dave, a lazy game of putt-putt at the beach with all of us, or a game of croquet with the kids. He played and he played to win. He was always game.
He had the quirkiest sense of humor, and made funny the most mundane and boring observations. He was shy in a way, but couldn’t help talking with anyone who might find themselves in his presence. The conversation may not have always been so smooth from the other person’s perspective, but for pop it was an education that he would store and recount for others later.
He loved to tell stories. Over Thanksgiving last year in Portland, he referred to his 5 year old granddaughter Yetta as “a real gasbag”, and he should know! He was the grandmaster of gasbags. His stories. Stories of his youth in Garrett Park spent with his brother Richard and his childhood best friend George Hartmann; stories of all the amazing women in his life; his Granny, Gran Maury, his mother Priscilla, and his sisters Anne and Sarah. Memories of his highschool days spent with David Swift and Bill Sturdevant. Stories of the 10th grade, when he met the love of his life, his wife and his best friend Trammell. And memories of being a graduate student and new father in the 70s, making friends and trouble in Takoma Park.
His stories were remarkable not only for their quantity, but for their clarity. When he told a story, he often set the stage with a description of the weather, what the trees looked like, what time of year it was, and if relevant what was happening in the world at the time. By the end of a story, I always had a clear image in my head of what he had experienced, or at least the memory he held in his own head. And even though the story may have held sadness or struggle in it, it almost always ended with a joke, and my father’s infectious chuckle.
He never stopped learning, even when the lessons were hard. He never knew his father, or most of the men in his family, who fought and died in WWII. These men were legends, larger than life, and cast in an eternal golden hue by their bravery and early deaths. He travelled in their footsteps for a time. He excelled at sports – football and baseball, and like generations of Maurys and Bunkers before him, he attended West Point. His love of sports – especially baseball – grew stronger over his lifetime. But the Army didn’t suit him and he didn’t suit the Army. He was a gentle man. So he left West Point. He was eventually called to active duty for the Berlin Wall Crisis and served honorably as this flag demonstrates.
After West Point, he returned home. He began in earnest his insatiable love affair with books and intellectual pursuits. And he never stopped reading. He devoured every book he got his hands on. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Maryland, and masters and PhD degrees in History from George Washington University. He went on to a long and varied career, teaching history at George Washington University and Catholic University, as a historian at the National Historical Society and the National Archives and finally as Chief Historian of the Census Bureau. In 1966, he married the younger sister of his childhood best friend. The girl next door. My mom, Karen. They had many good memories together in Takoma Park. They had two awesome, awesome children together of whom he was incredibly proud. One of us is a doctor.
Life took my father on a journey away from some of the things he loved for a time. The 80’s were difficult for pop and our family. Loss surrounded us. He lost his mother, lost a nephew, lost a niece, lost his marriage, left Takoma Park, left his job, struggled with his children. He struggled mightily. He married his second wife Irene. He returned to school and dabbled in other careers. He had a note taped to his Macintosh in those years that read “Time is Life”. Even as a teenager I could tell that he was restless but didn’t know what to do. He loafed, played tennis, read a lot. All was not bad though. He formed a deep relationship with his stepson Tarim. We all lived relentlessly then. We were raucous, rowdy. We terrorized Bethany Beach. We all made incredible, epic memories both together and often apart.
In the early 90s, he started the most challenging and rewarding phase in his life. He worked very hard in those years, to rejoin his high school sweetheart Trammell, rebuild relationships, rebuild his career, regain his confidence and overcome the obstacles that life put in his way. And he succeeded. He didn’t always have the answers, and he knew it, but he kept doing his best one day at a time.
The last twenty years of Bill’s life was a triumph of courage, determination, kindness, patience and forgiveness. He continued his lifelong process of learning, learning how to be a better husband, a better father, a better friend and a better historian. He was solid.
He enjoyed many visits to the Delaware shores, where our whole family has vacationed for generations. Those visits were the highlight of his year – all of us together, sitting at the beach, reading, body surfing, epic Putt Putt battles, crabs, the works. Over the years he witnessed his daughter graduate medical school, his son graduate college and graduate school. He got to know the personalities of his grandsons, William and Tassew, and his granddaughter Yetta.
In his last days he was sketching the outline of a book he titled Harmony. I still can’t figure out what it was about, but it signifies a rare state he achieved in his life. Harmony.
My father died just after midnight on April 12th, surrounded by his wife, daughter and son. One of his dearest friends, Maier Fox, visited him every day he was in the hospital, including his last. The last day of his life was an absolutely gorgeous Spring day in Washington. Low-mid 80s without a cloud in the sky. The cherry blossoms, late this year due to lingering cold, were in full bloom. As my sister remarked, the trees were getting greener by the hour. The baseball season had begun and that Nats were off to a great start – 6-2 up to that point. They won their 7th game that night, a 7-4 win over the White Sox. We tuned the radio to the game for my father. It was the kind of day my father loved. And how fitting, if he had to pass, that he would do so as Spring in Washington came rushing to life.
A few minutes after he passed, I was on the phone with his step-daughter Andrea, who was on the plane waiting to taxi and takeoff to be with him. I was describing how peacefully my dear pa passed, and Andrea says “That’s not the Bill I know. Are you sure he didn’t fall out of bed or throw a book at somebody?”
And she’s so right. My father did not live a quiet, peaceful existence. He lived full to the brim up until his last hours. He raced to the finish line and he dropped. We would so have loved for the circumference of the circle of this life to be larger. For more beach trips, more spring training trips, more visits and stories and more laughs. But this is the circle of his life, and it’s a beautiful, harmonious circle. He leaves a legacy of kindness, forgiveness, love, warmth, humor and curiosity.
I know I speak for all of us when I say I am so grateful for the time that I had with our dear Bill. I am honored to have known him, and so proud to be his son. And I will carry for the rest of my days the greatest admiration and love for a remarkable man.