Bill Thorpe was not just my fellow colleague on the Chapel Hill Town Council, he was my friend. He was such a unique and caring person, and never hesitated to say exactly what he thought during our meetings. He and I experienced a campaign together, and got to know each other well during that time and especially right after when he and I went through “new council” orientation (although he was certainly no “new” member!). He said then that he wanted to go through it with me because things had probably changed since he was last on the council, and that didn’t want me to be alone in my endeavors! So Bill and I toured Public Works, Transit, and the Fire Stations with much interest and joviality.
A special memory is during that orientation when Bill and I were showed the “bucket” on a firetruck at the Fire Station on Weaver Dairy Road. We were offered a ride up, and Bill enthusiastically got on in. He had to convince me to get in that thing—-and we both were lifted almost 100 feet into the air and could basically see Raleigh! Given my fear of heights, Bill was the one who kept me very calm and joked along the way…..and he put his every trust in the fireman that stood with us in the bucket, which transferred over to me and made me feel better. Bill had taken his camera with him, and when we got back down, he made sure the fire man took a picture of us in that bucket. I am going to try and post it when I figure out how to do that! It is really a great picture. He had a calm way about him and an excellent sense of humor!
He had told me later that he was glad that “the mayor” had put us sitting next to each other on the council bench. He was not happy that we were not assigned to share the same office, but I assured him that I really wouldn’t spend much time in that office because I preferred to work at home and so it wouldn’t matter. He was okay with that. We had a great time sitting next to each other for those first two years, and unfortunately expressed his dismay to me again after the recent election that our places were moved and we were separated. He and I shared many a miniature conversation while sitting next to each other, and sometimes we didn’t even need to say anything but we would just look at each other when something raised our eyebrows—we both understood and were on the same page. I so much enjoyed his unique perspective and his sense of humor. He could look at things happening before the council in a far broader way than I, and when I would get upset about something, he always provided that sense of experience and perspective that helped me through.
Outside of the council meetings, he wanted to stay in touch. During the first two summer breaks he took the initiative and called me and said we needed to get together. He always picked the Cafe Carolina and Bakery in Meadowmont, and we would try to sit outside. During those lunches he would talk about recent council activities and how he interpreted the current political scene in light of the “council-manager form of government”. He always made me laugh about things with his sense of humor and his interpretations of events. He had a lot to say during those lunches! The last time I went to that Cafe was with him, so it will be hard when I go back there. This past summer, I was out of town a lot, and I hadn’t heard from him. I knew something was up. He was not feeling energetic and was trying to rest given his condition.
While on the council he would occasionally say “that’s the Bill Thorpe way of doing things,” or “that’s Bill Thorpe.” I know exactly what he meant. He would often coach me after a meeting, saying “that was great. You did a great job,” or very discreetly would tell me “maybe next time we should do it this way…”
One of the funnier things I remember about Bill’s statements actually occurred during his last council meeting in June. The council had just been through listening to petitions by a few citizens related to the council’s decisions on public financing, the budget, and the health care issue. Bill was very serious when he said this, but what he said was so true and I laughed about it. He said to the citizens in the audience: “Looks like to me that the political season has already opened up……I’m very busy trying to get Obama elected President of the United States, and I hope you’d hold off till after November, then start the season to run for town council, which starts NEXT year…. I say all that to say we have a lot before us tonight….this is strictly political….let’s wait till after November…..those who are interested in running for town council, let’s get by the election in November until we start….”
Bill called me “Laurie”, not because he didn’t know my name, but because he liked that better for me. I loved it that he called me that. I won’t forget Bill Thorpe. He was a true friend. He showed me the sense of history on the council and the Town, and a bit about life.