A Compassionate Man

BY Stephanie Miller

Parents from all over Wilmington have saved a letter from their children thanking them for paying for their straight teeth. The story and man behind the letters is inspirational.

Those kids were patients of the late Dr. William Craig. Dr. Craig didn’t just fix crooked teeth; he developed a relationship with the individual in his chair. He taught his young patients to give him a strong handshake when they walked into his office to look him in the eyes when greeting him. Before they walked out the door of his office for the last time he asked them to think about the sacrifice their parents had made and to stop a moment and put those words down on paper.

Bill Craig who died of leukemia at age 65 on March 2 2007 wouldn’t want people writing about him says his wife Kathey. He never wanted recognition. He just wanted to do good work. And his friends who knew this better than anyone found the best way to honor his life — by setting up the YMCA Bill Craig Memorial Fund and running a race whose proceeds would carry on Bill’s legacy in perpetuity.

The race a 5K and 15K run will be held this year on January 24 at the Wachovia Mortgage Building at Mayfaire Town Center with RBC Bank as the presenting sponsor. Bill served on the Y board for more than 15 years and as president for two terms. The race was a natural fit to honor Bill a talented triathlete and marathon runner who went to Indiana University on a track scholarship.

The William H. Craig Race for Life earmarks its proceeds to help needy children something close to Bill’s heart. Last year the first race after Bill’s death nearly 500 participants walked or ran to honor his memory. Proceeds from the race paid for scholarships for more than 25 children to attend the YMCA Summer Day Camp and to help sponsor a child with cancer at the Victory Junction Gang Camp in Randleman North Carolina. The camp is an arm of the international Hole in the Wall Camps founded by actor Paul Newman for children with serious illnesses.

“Bill loved the Y what it stood for — all about helping others. He spent many hours volunteering down there. It was his way of giving back ” says his wife of nearly 40 years Kathey Craig. This was Bill’s ministry — to help other people.

Bill’s radar was always tuned into ways he could lend a hand although he preferred to do it anonymously. There are many in Wilmington who never knew Bill had helped them. He had a knack for seeing people who were struggling and offering his expertise. Once Bill found out that a young retailer was having a rough time in his business. He spoke with a friend Vinton Fountain and suggested the two men sit down with this young guy every week to offer coaching and support until he was on his feet.

“He made that a priority and acted on it ” says Fountain. “Most people would just go about their busy lives. It’s a way of life he embraced.”

Having lost his father at age 11 in their rural farming community outside of Indianapolis Bill developed a deep love for life that he shared with everyone he met. Golfing was a passion of his because he loved being surrounded by good friends doing something he enjoyed.

“He might start out on the first hole with a friend ” says Jimmy Carter one of Bill’s many friends “and then someone would walk by and Bill would say ‘come on let’s play a few holes.’ Before you knew it there would be a whole group of people teeing off.”

“He was a gentleman in the true sense of the word — a ‘gentle’ man ” says Carter. He attracted people to him because of his ability to pay attention to them without judging. “Bill didn’t need to straighten people out. He never wanted to hurt anyone’s feelings. If he disagreed with them he’d take a friend aside after the conversation and say ‘I don’t remember it that way ’ or ‘I don’t see it that way.’ Bill didn’t try to tell others how they should act or think. Instead he showed us by example.”

Part of this trust was built on his personal faith. He was able to share this faith with others in a Bible study group with friends among them Allen Rippy. “It’s unusual ” says Rippy “for a man to be able to share discussions about faith. Bill was able to do this.”

Though his friends all agree that Bill led by example they also agree that he liked testing his limits. In preparation for a triathlon while in his early 40s he tried to gather some friends for a trial bike ride to see how far they could go. None of his friends could make it so he went alone.

Kathey recalls the adventure. “He started with Myrtle Beach as his destination and as the days ticked by the goal moved further and further south first to Charleston then all the way down to Florida. I thought he was kind of crazy. I tried to talk him out of it but he said he’d call every night to check in. He was always setting goals for himself.”

It was never about the destination for Bill. It was always about the journey. His partner in the orthodontics office Dr. Robert “Bobby” Campbell recalls a trip he and his wife took with the Craigs to Charlotte for a continuing education course. Bobby and his wife planned to leave with the Craigs Thursday morning and arrive in Charlotte four hours later have dinner and prepare for the early morning class. Instead the four first stopped at a hot dog stand outside of Burgaw. “We had to get these special hot dogs ” Campbell laughs. The next stop was ECU because Bill wanted to show the Campbells the beautiful campus. “We couldn’t really find it because he thought it was right off the interstate but it wasn’t.” Finally came dinner in Salisbury with some friends. A four-hour trip had turned into a 12-hour adventure. “Looking back ” says Campbell “it was a learning experience. He taught me to slow down a little bit take one day at a time and appreciate what I have.”

Dr. Richard Reamer is another long-time friend of Bill’s going back to their Navy days at Parris Island where Bill was a pedodontist (a pediatric dentist) and Dick was a dentist. “I never met anyone who was more into doing everything right. Bill did everything first-class. He was that way in the dental profession that way in dealing with people ” says Reamer. “I wouldn’t have to go out on a limb to say that Bill Craig never had an enemy never said a bad thing about anybody might have thought it but never said it. He was about as class act a person as you could ever meet. He was always concerned even with fighting cancer for 5 years with what other people were thinking what other people were going through. He wasn’t just making you feel like your problems were the most important thing to him he genuinely thought this way.”

Dick saw this compassion and appreciation for doing things right while visiting the Craigs in Seattle. Bill took him up to the treatment center at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center to introduce his friend to all the staff. “He just talked about what great people THEY were; what great work THEY were doing not about his illness. They were doing it kind of like him. Everything was first-class everything was people-oriented. That is what his ministry was — people. He treated everybody like they were his own kids. His relationship with his daughters Elizabeth and Jennifer is pretty special too.”

Bill’s faith and love of humanity pulled everyone through the worst of times. “He was so okay with what was happening to him it gave us all strength ” says Kathey. Cancer helped Bill appreciate the years he did have. “He just never looked at the negative side.”

The William H. Craig Race for Life is one of Bill’s many legacies. It is a wonderful way to honor the memory of a man who couldn’t do enough to help everyone who crossed his path. His friends and family will all be there to help celebrate his life on January 24 and to raise money for a cause Bill was passionate about. And they are reaching out to everyone who Bill has touched to join them at this annual celebration.

When they see you they’re bound to look you right in the eyes give your hand a steady shake and say “Thank you.” And mean it from the bottom of their hearts.

Want to Participate?

The William H. Craig Race for Life

5K and 15K run or walk

January 24 8:30 AM

at the Wachovia Mortgage Building at Mayfaire Town Center