blog-soperI met William (Bill) Soper when I was eleven years old in Boy Scouts, only I didn’t know him as William or Bill. I knew him as my friend Willie. He was a quiet kid, but he was a very loyal friend. Unbeknownst to me, he would also become my teacher. Willie didn’t teach with his words; he taught with his actions.

Willie taught me my first lesson when he got his first real job. He worked at a local Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant, and he quickly became one of that restaurant’s most trusted employees. How do I know this? I know because the owners of that Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant trusted him with their most prized possession; their secret recipe.

When word reached me that Willie knew the secret recipe for the best chicken on earth, I made it a personal mission to get him to tell me that recipe. He may have been twice my size, but I felt he was no match for my ability to persuade. So I went to work on Willie. I was so sure that I could get that recipe, I bragged to everyone that it would just be a matter of time.

I tried everything. I tried to be nice, I tried to be angry, I tried to be hurt, and when nothing worked, I tried to be honest. I swore to him I would never, ever, tell another soul, and I meant it. I was confused because I could not understand why he would not just tell me. After all, I gave him my word that no one would ever know.

But Willie would know. To him, it was irrelevant what I would or wouldn’t do with the information. He had been trusted with this information, and he had given his word that he would tell no one. For over 40 years, he kept his word. Through his actions, he taught me integrity.

Webster’s Dictionary defines integrity this way: the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness. I have always had a different definition of integrity: doing what you know is right – regardless of whether anyone knows or not. Willie taught me that.

When my friend Willie graduated from the University of Maryland with a Bachelor’s degree in Criminology, he went into law enforcement. He was an exemplary police officer, and he was nominated for Police Officer of the Year by the Rockville Chamber of Commerce. He was given the honor of Law Enforcement Officer of the Year, and he was given the title of Detective of the Year while working for the Calvert County Sheriff’s office. He received numerous other awards through the years. In July 2013, he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant, and he became the Commander of the Administrative and Judicial Services Bureau for Calvert County. He worked there until his passing. That’s when he taught me the second lesson.

Over the years, we had seen each other on rare occasions. Life got in the way, but when we did see each other, we always appreciated the moments we had together. Of course, those moments were not nearly enough. What’s more, although I cared a great deal about Willie, I hadn’t realized how much I cared about him until I heard the tragic news. I’m left wishing that I had told him how much he, and his friendship, meant to me. I’m quite sure I’m not the only person who has had this same feeling when a friend is lost.

My teacher Willie left this earth, but he left me with this one final lesson that I’d like to share with you: We all need to reach out to those we care about, and let them know how much they mean to you. Please don’t promise you’ll get together soon: Make the effort to get together now. And when you do, tell them how much you care about them. You’ll be glad you did.

Rest in peace Willie. Your friendship and your lessons will always be with me.

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