This is a story about two men named Bill who passed away late last year: Bill Carteaux, the CEO of the Plastics Industry Association, earlier known as the Society of the Plastics Industry, and Bill Edmunds, who was my college roommate at Ohio University in the early 1980s.
Both of them died way too young, Carteaux at 59 and my old roommate at 57.
But Carteaux and Edmunds gave us an important message: How to go on and live a full life and face down personal tragedy with optimism and determination. Their stories will be remembered, helping others cope with unexpected challenges that can suddenly strike at any time.
You never know how life will turn out.
Bill Carteaux picked up dengue fever from a mosquito bite during a plastics industry trip to Cuba in 2016. That's when the doctors first detected leukemia.
Bill Edmunds was paralyzed at age 24, when a gunman shot him through the spinal cord in a holdup in 1985 at a Columbus, Ohio, car rental office where he worked. His wife and high school sweetheart, Cheryl, sent me the newspaper article with the headline: "Man paralyzed by robber's bullet."
I was blessed to know both of them well before their life-altering events.
As Plastics News' machinery reporter, I met Carteaux way back in the early 1990s when he was at Autojectors Inc., the maker of vertical-clamp insert molding machines in Avilla, Ind., his hometown. He later was a top executive at Van Dorn Demag in Strongsville, Ohio, which became Demag Plastics Group.
He became president and CEO of what was then called SPI in 2005. I used to joke with Carteaux that he left the plastics machinery business, which used to be marked by some wicked cyclical swings, for the "soft life" running a trade association. But of course, it was anything but easy. The Great Recession hit and put NPE 2009 in jeopardy as some exhibiting companies pulled out. The moves by Carteaux and other industry leaders to save the show have been well-documented. His machinery roots sure came in handy in persuading machinery companies to stick with that NPE.
Then came the big move of NPE from Chicago to Orlando, Fla.
But what I think was most impressive about Bill Carteaux, as well as Bill Edmunds, was the brave way they moved ahead with their lives. Carteaux raised nearly $700,000 for the National Capital Area chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. He continued to attend industry events.
Edmunds counseled other paraplegics, helping them seek independence from their disabilities. He was a tireless advocate for wheelchair access — including at car race tracks, one of his passions.
My OU roommate was one of first members of the Columbus wheelchair softball team. He was active in the Wheelchair Olympics, winning national and international awards at wheelchair rifle competitions.
I didn't make it to Carteaux's memorial service in Washington on Jan. 13. But I did go to Edmunds' funeral service, where they played some of the rock songs we listened to back in college. "Stairway to Heaven" kicked it off.
Here's the main thing about both these guys: You never heard them complain. They didn't feel sorry for themselves. On the contrary, Bill Edmunds and Bill Carteaux were upbeat and fun to be around. Everyone has problems in life. Being around the two Bills made you realize: "My problems are insignificant."
I know that people loved to hang out with Bill Edmunds. When I visited, we laughed uncontrollably about the same stupid things we laughed about as college freshmen. As I get older, the fragile nature of life becomes more real, but my friend Bill was a young man, his life in front of him, when he had to face that harsh reality.
And in many ways, Bill Carteaux was still the Hoosier with humble beginnings who ended up in the Plastics Hall of Fame.
They set a great example. I think it's natural to wonder, how would I react if something like that happened to me? Well, these are two great role models.
What inspirational people, in life and even in death.