Christmas Day, Joyce and I attended church with one of our daughter’s here in Spokane Valley. Also visiting was Wayne Gould. While I hadn’t met Wayne before, I quickly found out he was the son of my friend, William Gould, and after church we kept our families waiting a bit while we talked about his dad. Bill Gould was a most extraordinary man whose example and kindness affected me deeply.
Bill passed away 10 years ago at the age of 86 and was literally known throughout the world as the pre-eminent voice for renewable energy. He was also chairman of the board and CEO of Southern California Edison, one of the largest privately-owned utility companies in the world. Bill, in his career, had met and counseled with the world’s industrial giants and leaders of nations both large and small. I invite you to look at his obituary to get an idea of the stature of this man.
I first met Bill in 1987. He was a regional representative for the LDS Church and was visiting our stake in Orange County where I served as a counselor in the stake presidency. To this day I can’t tell you why there was almost instant bonding between us, as he was 21 years my senior. Maybe it was because we both loved to write. In any case, virtually from the git-go we traded writings—mine, fiction and self-help articles; his, memoirs and personal history. And what a history! From a boy of small stature with a horrific stuttering problem and son of a coal-dust-eating railroad engineer, to a man known throughout the world for his accomplishments and contributions.
I got the best of the bargain in our exchanges. Bill was not only the consummate “Martha” with his practicality and I’ll-figure-out-how-to-do-it genius, but he was a spiritual, poetic “Mary” as well. An extraordinary hybrid whose writing skill dwarfed my own.
One of his stories was particularly poignant. As a boy, Bill lived in Provo, Utah, and his diminutive size and severe stuttering problem contributed to his painfully shy disposition. He was always the last one chosen for a team—if chosen at all—and was the subject of constant derision from many of his peers. He was maybe eight or nine-years-of-age when his grade school teacher gave the children an assignment to write an essay and then read the essay in front of the class.
Bill’s turn came, and he fearfully stood. He knew what would happen. His stuttering was so overwhelming that he didn’t get more than a few words out before he stopped. Embarrassed to tears he started to take his seat when the teacher told him to stay where he was. “You will finish, Bill,” she said. She was probably well-meaning, thinking that forcing Bill to go through this would help him overcome his stuttering. For Bill, though, his teacher’s act was bordering on demonic and would forever brand him an unacceptable.
For the longest time Bill just stood there. Then a remarkable thing happened. One of his classmates, a young girl by the name of Millie, who was sitting on the front row, reached out her hand, took his, then smiled up at him. That act of love calmed and strengthened him, and he finished his reading.
Such were the Bill Gould stories he shared with me, and for the next few years, we kept in close touch. Bill’s wife, Erlyn, was a beautiful woman. How he idolized her—and cared for her. She was a cancer victim and graciously and courageously struggled to stay afloat. She passed away in 1992, and it was as though a chunk of Bill died with her. For the next nearly two years it seemed as though Bill just disappeared, and I had little contact with him. Then one day when Joyce and I were in the Los Angeles Temple, I saw him. And he was not alone! When he saw me, his face turned total smile, and he pulled the woman he was with close to him. “Steve, do you remember one of my stories about a girl named Millie who held my hand to help me get through an agonizing ordeal when I was a boy?”
“Yes!” I answered. “Who could forget that story!”
Bill’s smile got wider. “This is Millie. Millie Gould now. We were married last week.”
My turn to smile!
Bill then talked about his funk when his wife, Erlyn, died. He was in an I’m-going-no-where morass, and he finally determined to get out of it. His plan was straight Bill Gould. He reviewed his life to determine those who had given him grace; who had made all the difference for him at critical times. Then one-by-one he sought them out—to tell them thank you and to now impart his own grace to them to the extent he could.
While this was happening, Bill’s daughter, who lived in Provo, was talking to her neighbor, a widow, about her dad; how difficult his life was since his wife’s death and what he was now doing. When the neighbor found out that her maiden name was Gould, she asked what her father’s name was.
“William Gould,” the daughter replied.
“Billy Gould? As a boy, did he go to school in Provo?”
The daughter nodded, and her neighbor, Millie, smiled.