February 23 - March 1, 1995


Sundown On The Range

By Jeff Smith

OKAY, SO THESE two frogs are sitting in the swamp and one says to the other one, "Time's fun when you're having flies."

I share this small moment of levity with you by way of sidling into the subject of my friend Bill's upcoming funeral. No date has been set yet; indeed, Bill is still available to discuss arrangements, but I'd guess he'd rather talk about the rain or the grass, or the America's Cup races, or cattle and horses. Not that Bill isn't a man who has given time to pondering the eternal and infinite, but death isn't much fun to carry on about, particularly your own.

Which is what got me onto the one about the frogs. You get to thinking about time and how different it looks from the front or the back, or whether you're getting much use out of it. I don't guess anybody can forget how long an hour seems to a school kid watching the clock tick down to 3:30. About as long as this time a year ago when the Rodeo parade wandered through downtown Tucson, from my 49-year-old point-of-view.

And why is it that dull people seem to live forever and bad times never end, while a real rip-snorter is over in a heartbeat and somebody who's full of piss and vinegar always is gone before his time?

Why is it that time flies when you're having fun?

I wish I knew. I also wish Bill Brophy wasn't sick, because Brophy has a genuine gift for having a good time, and for making people around him have a good time, and on this account alone his life is going to seem way too short when it finally does end, even if he beats the odds and outlives everybody in Santa Cruz County.

Most of whom are proud to call Bill Brophy a friend.

You can't say that of most people, although most people who write about most other people who are rumored to be fading will say that. Most of the time it's a well-intentioned lie.

In Brophy's case it's the truth and that's a curious thing, because the man is pretty plain-spoken and blunt, besides which he comes from a comfortably-fixed family with as close to aristocratic bloodlines as you'd find in Arizona, on top of which he runs about the biggest family-owned cattle ranch in the state. As far as cuddly, underdog appeal, and political correctness go, Bill Brophy is no sale.

So how do you explain the fact that wherever he steps out of his truck around here, men come up to shake his hand and laugh about something they both know from way back, and women flirt and give him a hug and smile when he tells them how pretty they are? I think it's because he's full of life and it shows. He thinks what he thinks and knows what he knows and he's neither shy about telling you nor pushy about getting you to see things his way.

It seems paradoxical, though it really isn't, that Brophy is a singular sort of man, who has much in common with so many of the people who populate this corner of the world, and other corners most of us will never see. He's a country boy first and foremost, son of a cattle rancher, father of the next generation of cattle ranchers. He was born and raised to it and is at home on horseback, behind the wheel of a muddy pickup truck, on a barstool in a cowboy saloon...and in company and conversation with people who can't remember when they didn't have dirt on their hands and shit on their boots.

But he's equally in his element in topsiders and khaki shorts aboard a sailboat off the coast of any continent on the planet. Or at the controls of his twin-engined Cessna. Over linen and silver with too many forks and spoons to keep track of, or speckled enamel beside a campfire. It sounds corny, I know, but that's what a man like Brophy can do with a good education, enough curiosity and cash, and a lifelong habit of reading. Sure he's had advantages. He makes no secret of it, doesn't alter his style or

his manner and manners toward people to suit changing surroundings, and people respond to that honesty.

I got to know Bill about 16 years ago and it was immediately understood that we probably hadn't voted for the same guy for President in our entire lives. But it was likewise clear that we shared a lot of values and attitudes about how to approach the daily business of living life and having a good time at it. The thing that struck me first was that Bill was less interested in impressing me with his own philosophy than he was in finding out what I thought about things, and how I'd arrived there. And that he'd read a bit of what I'd done, and given thought to it.

The longer I knew him the less I was surprised at the range of subjects and titles on the books he kept behind his couch and beside his bed. Brophy is one of those men who reads more by writers whose views differ from his, than those who agree. That way he has learned more and critically examined his own thinking better than the general run of humanity. It was Brophy who passed along to me a nugget of advice that each generation in turn should bequeath to the next. It's not original with Bill, but then it wasn't original with Bill Shakespeare, either, and he told it to Chris Marlowe:

Never eat at a restaurant named Mom's, never play cards with a guy named Doc and never sleep with a woman who has more problems than you do.

You can see in Brophy a man who's eaten at Mom's a time or two.

Two summers ago Bill began warring with cancer. The illness got a good stretch of his innards, but Bill got another good stretch of time. A fair trade and one Brophy put to good use. He took a few thousand dollars the ranch had earned from movie companies filming westerns there, and threw a party that's still talked about. He must have invited 500 people, and half again that many showed up without invitations. Nobody was turned away and anybody who drove home hungry or thirsty simply wasn't trying.

And get this: no paper plates nor plastic cups and forks.

It was like a family-and-friends reunion covering four or five generations and 10 times that many states and small countries.

You should have been there. And probably could have, and Bill would have made you feel right at home.

It may be that Bill won't be throwing another party quite that grand. It may be he'll be checking out of here before long. That will be a sad day, but hell, the one thing every living creature on Earth does is die. Lots of us in the flush of good health and happy expectations will precede Bill Brophy into that good night.

But not a lot of us have been as good at living while we live.

I'm glad to have the opportunity to watch him at it, and to tell him so.

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February 23 - March 1, 1995

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