This box asks what I would like to say about "Bill". Well, the first thing I would like to say is that he was *not* "Bill", he was Billie. I can remember being nearby when people would come visit and insist on calling him "Bill" and after they left him muttering "My name is not Bill, it's not William, or Will, it's Billie Lee!" So many people not familiar with the ways of Texas just don't understand that people really do get named, as their formal name, "Billie" or "Bobby" followed by "Lee" or "Joe"---it's always a two syllable first name with a one syllable middle name that rolls off the tongue with a poetic impetus toward iambic pentameter:
Billie Lee and Bobby Joe
Down the bayou they did go
Fixin' up to catch a fish
To put upon the supper dish...
and so on. Anyhow, Billie was my professor, my mentor, my friend, my fellow informal poet.
Billie was sometimes was so busy thinking about plant names he couldn't remember people's names and often referred to us students as "whatchamacallit" or "whatchamadoodle"....it was somewhat of an honor if you were the one he came up with a new "whatchama..." form for. When he introduced me to Jeffrey Harborne, I was "whatchamadiggle".
I suppose everyone experienced Billie differently; I was his student in his sort of middle-years of professoring, and so didn't have the completely wild adventures that some of his earliest students had with him, but I got to spend a summer staying in his attic in his house in Big Fork, Montana, where he and Susan and I would sit on the back porch overlooking the Flathead River listening to Willie Nelson --- certain of Willies songs will always evoke that memory of Billie for me. Or, sometimes, we'd sit in the only bar in town (Billie hardly ever drank anything other than water or a Coke) and write poems on napkins and pass them back and forth to each other. If the music was good, Billie would dance; he's the one who taught me to "follow" properly in country swing, although he had to twist my arm behind my back to do it.
Professionally, I owe more to Billie than it's possible to say. His letters of recommendation were something else, and when I wrote such letters for my own students later on, I always tried to emulate his positive honesty. Nothing he ever said was untrue, but boy, he sure could make a person sound like they walked on water; the letters were also always carefully geared to the peculiarities of the institutional recipient. The year I finished at UT, I applied for something like a dozen jobs, and I think he picked out the one that he thought I should have and wrote that letter in a way that got it for me. His marvelous ability to match extolling his student and cajoling his distant colleagues was only one of his many unique traits.
Graduate school was hard work, but it helped immeasurably to know that Billie was there in the herbarium, working the same late hours that we students were. I can remember sitting there in the evenings, down the bench from him, both of us poking and prodding at specimens under scopes, having long, drawn-out arguments about the plant characteristics we were seeing, or telling jokes, or talking about life experiences. It always seemed to me that Billie had too many advisees at once, but he knew each of us well, and always had time for us, so I guess it wasnt too many after all. He could---and would---tease almost unmercifully, but when you asked him to stop, and really meant it, he would. There wasnt a mean bone in his body, although he simply could not resist saying something entirely embarrassing to someone, just to see how they would react. If you were Billie-savvy you learned to either answer in kind or to put your foot down and tell him to mind his manners; if you werent, you provided the entertainment, because Billie would just keep on keeping you flustered.
I regret that I did not see Billie again after about 1995, but I am so glad that Ron Hartman and I put together a celebration of his life and production of PhD students when the Botanical Society of America met in Fort Collins, Colorado, in the late 1980s. We managed to gather all but two of his former students (up to that date) as well as his current ones, and I remember thinking that the group of us were really very much the core of the American Society of Plant Taxonomists at the time; collectively, Billies academic posterity is indeed very large and has had an influence on the field that is likely not exceeded by any other plant systematics professor of the twentieth century.
Billie was as genuine a person and personality as I have ever known. If integrity is being true to oneself, then he had integrity. He was truly a Texan: he thought big, he lived big, and he talked big, but he wasnt just talk---he was real; he was as real as Texas gets. Fare well, Billie, see you in the Elysian Field, hunting those DYCs.