My dad, Billy Fuller, passed away Tuesday, July 30, a little past nine in the morning. I’m not sure who I’m writing this for — it may be just for me, or it could be that I just feel that I want to honor my dad in a public way. I’m really not sure, but I know it fees like something I that I want and need to do.
Growing up in Norlina meant that people knew who I was, which more accurately means, they knew whose kid I was. If a person was my age (or up to 20 years older than me), then my dad probably taught them or coached them in football, basketball or baseball, or in the case of my friend, Lucas Reid, and many others, he coached against them. If a person was any older than that, they played one of those three sports with or against my dad, or they saw him play.
I should stop to mention that, apparently, he was an awesomely skilled athlete. At which sport? Well, as far as I’ve been told, all of them. And trust me, I’ve been told, and told, and told. For six years, I worked at Traylor’s Hardware in Norlina owned by Bob Traylor (who happened to be the best man in my dad’s wedding, so I had a leg up in getting that job as a 14-year-old eighth-grader). It seemed that not a day went by when I worked there that someone did not mention watching my dad play sports in high school or him being a great coach.
Now, somehow, I didn’t get the gene that made me the do-everything athlete (nor the gene that people who are tall get, either), but I can tell you honestly that I never go tired of the stories. By some stroke of luck that I didn’t deserve, my dad was as close to being a sports celebrity as we had living in our small town, which made me feel special to be connected to him. Sure, people wondered (often aloud) why I didn’t play sports like my dad did. But, truth be told, it never bothered me (luckily I did have the gene of indifference to most opinions other than my own). I just loved the stories. Whether it was a no-hitter he pitched, or 30 points he scored in a basketball game, or him being selected All-East in football, or being recruited by UNC, UVA or ECU, it didn’t matter. I loved the stories, and at the end of the day, he was my dad. He taught me to play golf (I only beat him once, and that was after his second hip replacement and a three year layoff from playing), but I did win once. Any success I’ve had in coaching middle school football in Greenville is directly related to all I’ve learned from him.
While all of my dad’s athletic exploits are a source of pride for me, all of the other things he taught me were by far more important. Now, being a teacher, you might think he sat me down at the kitchen table after hours and taught me what I needed to know about everything. But, luckily, I learned by his example, and he unwaveringly set the example throughout his life.
He gave, but not to receive credit. He gave time and effort to help people. I know many times he gave anonymously to help people, and he would have never wanted anyone to know he did it. He never cared about awards or recognition. I learned that doing the right thing and taking care of others had nothing to do with receiving credit or praise. When someone called, he came. When someone needed him, he delivered. His willingness to put others before himself is an example I still struggle to emulate. It’s embarrassing how selfish I am when I compare myself to him.
The thing I’m most proud of is the Christian man that he was. Whether it was teaching Sunday school or starting a ministry with another great man, Tommy Frazier, to serve residents in local nursing homes, how he lived his life always reflected his faith in God and his personal Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He would share and show God’s love and the gospel of Christ through his actions. I couldn’t be more proud of that. Over the years, and especially the last few days, the kind words of so many people who saw my dad as a humble servant of Christ have been comforting, humbling and inspiring. I’ve heard story after story after story, but the stories weren’t about sports. They were about something different and better. They were stories of how he loved and gave and taught, of his selflessness and his kindness. I’ve heard the word “hero” in stories many times over the last week, and I can’t argue them, nor would I want to.
But, in the end, he was just my dad. He always had time for me. He always loved me. He was funny and just fun. He loved his grandkids so very much. He took an interest in anything that was important to any of us. I’m going to miss his terribly.
In closing, he and I had many free throw shooting contests in the backyard over the years. He would almost always make 10 out of 10, which means he won. A lot. The best I could usually hope for was to make eight or sometimes nine, which was always good enough for me. I would so much love to go one more round. With him gone now, there will be a void that will always be there, I know, but what he gave me over my 43 years is so big and valuable and wonderful and important that I know I am well prepared for whatever comes next. I don’t expect that I can live up to the example he set, but I’m fairly certain that, because of his example, I do have a shot every now and again to make all 10.