Editor’s Note: On November 20 family and friends gathered to memorialize Bill Whaley, aka the Pesky Insect, nine months after he died of a heart attack while skiing with his granddaughter at the Taos Ski Valley. Hosted at the Farmhouse Café and Bakery by Bill’s wife Debra Villalobos, everyone got to visit, have a great meal, and tell their stories about this Taoseño treasure, whether you “loved” or “hated” him. That was the theme of the night, though obviously those present were in the “love” category while the “hate” category (a hyperbolized binary) are the ones who felt the sting of his laser pen in Horse Fly, his newspaper, and Taos Friction, his subsequent blog: politicians, CEOs, bureaucrats, anyone who he felt betrayed the public trust.
These are “A few words about my friend Bill Whaley” from another Taos treasure, John Nichols, who’s had to deliver way too many eulogies over the past decade as many of Bill and John’s friends and colleagues have also passed on.
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“I loved and admired Bill for his chutzpah, his arrogance, his intelligence, his lack of fear, his gentle and compassionate sides, his stupidity and his screw-ups, his angels and his devils, and his ability to recover and try again during his complicated, often hilarious, often self-destructive, yet also courageous and humane existence.
He left behind a pretty decent mess, and also an unfinished memoir I was yearning to read. Bill’s first colorful memoir, Gringo Lessons, about his initial twenty years in Taos, is a remarkable tale of high hopes, confusion, great success mixed with bankruptcies, desperation, ineptitude, and stupefying misadventures. Bill created some legendary triumphs, and some just as legendary disasters. Frankly, he paid in hard coin for his shaky survival, and, around 1986 or ’87 he barely escaped Taos for a ten-year rehab and academic renewal in Nevada.
Then he returned for another 20 turgid years in Taos, highlighted by the exciting and controversial decade of Horse Fly.
Bill was an integral, Quixotic, thoughtful and courageous part of this community. He was an inspiring teacher; he despaired over our violence; he spoke truth to power, and power kicked him back in the cojones. But he always got back up before the referee counted to ten.
Bill articulately explained our myriad escapades and confabulations, our political exploits and general shenanigans. He did that with truthfulness, biting satire, sarcasm, genuine praise, sincere humility, or sometimes just vivid execrations for being surrounded by so many enemies and so many assholes.
The writer Edward Abbey once said, “If there’s anybody still present whom I’ve failed to insult, I apologize.” Bill could have said the same thing. In fact he did say that in every issue of Horse Fly.
Love him or hate him, Bill deserves our gratitude for constantly stirring up our pots to keep us awake, aware, and consciously—I mean conscientiously—involved in being here. Nobody will ever call him a saint. But you can’t deny that he loved this twisted little town.
In real life (on the day he died), Plato, Homer, Socrates, and Lindsey Vonn should have trudged up to the Ski Valley, put Bill on their shoulders, and carried him back down here for us to welcome with open arms. Bill was an original human being who interacted with, and affected, everyone. He truly belonged to all of us.
No, I don’t smoke. But tomorrow afternoon I plan to pour myself a glass of wine, put on my old fedora hat, check how it looks in the mirror, and then I’ll turn on the TV, light up a cigar, and watch the San Francisco Forty-Niners football game.”