By Tony Hooker
On April 9, the world mourned the passing of Prince Phillip, The Duke of Edinburgh, the longest-serving royal consort in British history, who was at the Queen’s side for more than her six decades of reign.
Eleven days later, the river city was shaken to hear of the passing of some of our own small-town royalty, Bill Gabbard.
Mr. Gabbard, as I referred to him, thanks to a respect for my elders that Donnie B instilled in me through fear of death when I was a kid, was known far and wide by his nickname, “Gabby”, and his compassion for his fellow Villa Grovians was nearly endless. I’ve heard too many stories of him lending a hand or a dollar where needed to even try to recount them all. Suffice it to say that his support for all things Villa Grove, though not publicized, will be truly missed. He did things because they needed doing, not for accolades or recognition.
Growing up with his oldest son, Trevin, I didn’t really know him other than as a classmate’s parent, who seemingly worked all the time. It was only after I interviewed him upon his induction into the Villa Grove High School hall of fame that I found out just how true that was. The man was indefatigable. He would work early mornings as a butcher and afternoons and evenings building MSI. As my memory serves, I think there might even have been a third gig in between those two at some point in the process. Apparently sleep was optional.
Through all of his efforts, he was able to build his business to the point where he could do what he wanted, when he wanted, but he never changed his demeanor. He was still the guy who would buy a round and then regale you with tales from his life. No putting on airs for Gabby. He loved hunting and fishing and Euchre and hanging out with his friends and family. He never knew a stranger, and he never knew how to say no. There probably isn’t an organization in town that hasn’t benefited from his largesse at some point in time, and usually more than once. The man cared about his community and walked the walk when it came to supporting it.
As proud as he was of his business, and as much as he cared about his community, his family meant more than all of those things combined. As many can attest, life isn’t fair, for as great and giving a man as Bill was, he suffered tremendous loss. During his hall of fame interview, the love he held for his wife Joyce, who preceded him in passing, emanated from his every word. The man worshiped her and missed her greatly. He also bore the pain of losing two sons, Trevin and Tron, and he did so with a dignity that few can match.
How one is remembered in passing is a direct correlation to how they lived their lives, and Mr. Gabbard was, to my knowledge, universally loved. He could dance and sing and usually knew a new joke or two that he would share with an appropriate audience. Our town is just a bit darker now than it was before he left us. No one person can replace a man of his stature, but hopefully his spirit of giving will inspire others to continue helping. Thanks for all that you’ve done, Gabby. I hope you’ve held all the trumps, because you were definitely the right bower, here in VG. Bill Gabbard was 79 when he passed. He is survived by his son Troy and a host of grands and great grands.