Life is full of different associations with other humans. Some associations are fleeting moments in our short stay here on Earth. Some are just working relationships; others become long-lasting friendships. I was fortunate to have both with my friend Byron Tracy.
In 1977, I had lived in Robinson for almost seven years and was acquainted with Byron when I started working at the Daily News. We developed a working relationship that expanded into a lasting friendship. Back in those early years we would talk about our experiences in the newspaper industry, and Byron would tell me stories about the Daily News that included names such as Kent Lewis, Larry Lewis, George McCarty, Moran and Clell Keller, Ott Willenberg, Dean Rankin, Zenus Smith, Merle Richards and others. We would talk about things that were going on in Robinson and Crawford County. With our talks Byron instilled in me a sense of pride and love for our community and stirred up a feeling of service to give back to this community more than I have taken.
I moved on in 1980, and Byron shortly afterwards left the newspaper for a stint with United Press International in 1981. Our friendship during this period was put on hold until both of us returned to the Daily News - Byron in 1983 and me in 1984. Things had changed at the newspaper, but our friendship was renewed.
In 1985 I became the advertising manager and our working relationship became closer than ever. We would take opposite sides on several issues, but our friendship never waned. We could yell and scream at each other one afternoon and the next morning we would resume our normal friendship. Byron at times would and could be as tough as they come, but deep down I knew where his heart and soul was...looking out for what he believed was the best for the newspaper and the Lewis family. Most of the time he was correct, and I would tell him the only reason I could put up with him was because his heart was in the right place.
Byron was known in the newspaper business throughout the state. We would attend Illinois Press Association meetings and other newspaper meetings together. Wherever we went, people across the state knew Byron. His reputation (good or bad) preceded him. Our trips included long talks about life, about our families and the business.
Byron became an ardent follower of Christ late in his life. He started reading his Bible daily and became active in the Highland Church of Christ and Promise Keepers. He mellowed. He and I would share things about our lives and families, and we both would shed a few tears of joy and sometimes remorse. Byron was there for me in tough times, giving strength, courage and hope in whatever situation I was in. And I was there for him too.
After he retired, Byron and Vicki relocated to Florida. Our relationship again became long-distance. I would see him on his visits back to Robinson and we would share what was going on in our lives.
His last visit to my office was late last summer. He explained his illness and how that his time on this Earth was short, and he needed to make the best possible use of each precious moment he had left. He told me he was putting his life in order and working to make things easier for Vicki. He wasn't sad or remorseful. He had a purpose to fulfill. He was on a mission - the Lord's mission. We hugged and he left.
Now he is gone. I will always remember him and our friendship. I am assured that Byron is with his Lord and Maker enjoying the fruits of his labor on this earth. I also know that "one sweet day" I will be reunited with him and we can renew our friendship once again.
Until that time...I miss him.
Wally Dean is advertising director of the Daily News and has served two terms as mayor of Robinson.