By Okot Nyormoi

Bill MilliganThis has been a trying year.  We must contend not only with the many challenges of the coronavirus pandemic but also the loss of many people who have touched our lives. One of these was Mr. Bill Milligan who left us on June 29, 2021, to join his ancestors in Pagak, the proverbial land of no return.  His departure left us with mixed emotions. On the one hand, we are sad that he is no longer with us. On the other hand, we are glad that he is no longer facing life’s difficult challenges which naturally come with advancing age.

I did not know Bill from childhood. I knew him in the second half of his life. While it is regrettable that I was not privileged to have known him earlier, perhaps it is just as well that I got to know him when he was already tempered and seasoned by years of life experiences. The opportunity to share his rich life experiences more than made up for the part of his life I did not know.

In my formative years, we were told to strive to be well rounded. At that age, I was initially puzzled since I did not think of myself as being imperfectly rounded, a square or any other geometric figures that I knew. However, when it was explained, I understood it. Such knowledge came in handy when I first met Bill years ago. It was obvious to me that he was no ordinary man. He was  a well-rounded person without being haute. He had opinions on most issues without being opinionated.

Bill came of age at the height of the Civil Rights movement in the USA in the sixties and seventies. He was in the thick of it. Consequently, he knew a lot about the history of the struggle of African Americans for social justice. He was always interested in learning and sharing his knowledge about the struggles for freedom on the African Continent.

Bill was higly spiritual. He devoted a lot of his free time as a volunteer doing community service. This was, of course, done mostly within the traditional institution of the struggle for freedom, the church in Houston, Texas. 

Books, sculptures, paintings, music, movies, plays were some of Bill’s interests. He collected works of art from Africa as well as America including ceremonial masks and an ornamental door. Bill read books of all kinds. Although I consider myself a good reader, I was surprised to see the range of books on his shelves. One of his unusual books was one titled Hitler’s American Model. It was from Bill’s book that I learned how Nazi lawyers were inspired by American laws on race to craft their own: the Arian supremacy laws regarding immigration, and race relations. Had it not been for Bill’s book collection, I probably would not have known this hidden fact about how the highly touted America Democracy was a model for Nazi’s vile policies that led to the Jewish holocaust.

Bill was an ardent photographer. He often saw beauty in nature that many people did not see until he brought it out in photographs. He was a poet and he saw beauty in spoken and written words that many people do not see or appreciate.

We always enjoyed Bill’s friendship not because of any material things he gave us or received from us. It was because of what he did not ask for and did not expect from us. Generous, he was and accepting of other people’s generosity, he was. I will never forget his unsolicited assistance with the preparation for my book launch in 2018.

On giving, I will not forget an African shirt I bought for him in Kampala Uganda, only to discover that it was much too small for him. Regrettably, I did not have the opportunity to replace it with one of the right size before he passed. Giving and receiving was like icing on the cake of our friendship.

It was the many meaningful conversations we shared about any, and all topics at family reunions, Thanksgiving, Christmas, or birthday gatherings which made Bill’s friendship special. Sharing occasional dinners with Bill was great but sharing brunch with family and friends was special. Brunch was always a long session of interesting and enjoyable conversations about what was going on around the world. We particularly miss having brunch with him.

Though Bill is physically gone from us, he will remain with us through our memories. More importantly, we will feel his presence through his legacy, which he said are his children and grandchildren.