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William James Nealy

Posted by Darren Bush on 5/7/2013 to Thoughts & Thank Yous
CHAPEL HILL — William James Nealy, writer, cartoonist, avid outdoorsman and author of ten books and innumberable illustrations, died on Thursday, July 19th, 2001. He was 47 years old. He is survived by his wife, Holland Wallace, and his mother, Louise Lipscomb Nealy.

A world famous cartoonist, William is best-known for his groundbreaking book Kayak, which combined, to both hilarious and practical effect, detailed river maps and expert paddling instruction as well as artful caricatures and parodies of the whitewater enthusiasts themselves. The quality of his work transcends its subject, and this book, and the others which followed, spawned a host of imitators, and made William a cult figure in the world of outdoor sports.

So reads the obituary.

Here’s a more personal experience that I had with him a few years ago. I was attending a trade show and he was signing some of his books. I had him sign one for my daughter, Whitney, who was 11 at the time and a budding paddler.

After he signed it, I told him the story about the time I was called on to respond to a question in a statistics lecture of about 50 graduate students. The lecturer was as boring as watching twigs recirculate in a keeper, and I was passing the time by reading Kayaks to Hell (the one with “budda budda budda” on the cover). I guess I was giggling once in a while, and it was probably because of that I was called on to answer a question, as it was obvious I wasn’t paying attention. Then the humiliation began…

“Mr. Bush, what is that book you’re reading that’s so entrancing?”

“It’s a book about kayaking.”

“You seem to be enjoying yourself. You want to share it with the rest of the class?”

Gee, I thought that was a tactic used in middle school…

All I could say is “Sure. It’s a lot better than the textbook we’re using.”

Only when the class snickered en masse and the professor gave me an icy stare did I remember that the professor was one of the authors of the textbook. I got an AB in the class and considered myself fortunate. And William liked the story. He grinned.

Good bye, William. May you rest truly in peace.

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