I had just finished eating dinner this past Friday night. As has become my habit, I took out my cellphone, and began scrolling stories on the New York Times Website. One story made me stop and stare transfixed at the phone. It was a headline I never thought I'd see.
Bill Lynch had passed away.
The timeline of my friendship with Bill is hardly a linear one. It lurches back and forth through the fog of memory from the time he began what would become a storied career as a political consultant and mentor (better than 35 yeards ago), to the night in July of 1988 when a bunch of us celebrated his birthday in the pool of an Atlanta hotel the last night of the Democratic National Convention. All I can say is it started with several mason jars of locally sourced corn liquor, and ended with all of us falling asleep as Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke to the New York delegation at the next morning's breakfast.
It was Bill who always made sure we stayed at the delegation's hotel, which made it easy to get interviews for our talk shows. It was Bill, along with the late labor leader Jim Bell, who arranged for the defining interview of my radio career, the one with Nelson Mandela. It was Bill who, not that long ago, would call me with one simple sentence: "I need your help with something". All who knew him and got that call made sure that, whatever it was he wanted, it got done for him.
Over the past couple of years, I was privileged to spend quality time with Bill in his Harlem office. This allowed me to see firsthand that lightning in a bottle that made him special among political consultants. It also allowed me to sit in his office laughing, joking, and talking about old times (I told you this wasn't linear). That's what makes it so tough to say goodbye. I know Bill Lynch hadn't run out of new ideas and strategies when he left us.
I close with this. Once, in the early 1980s, Bill and I were at an event to the Apollo Theater. We talked together across 125th St. to Eighth Ave. Bill stopped, and stared south, down what was at the time a devastated stretch of Harlem real estate. He said to me, "you know, Percy (Sutton, my boss and a great man himself) has a vision for Harlem. He sees Eighth Ave. in a few years becoming a thriving tourist mecca, with new apartments, shops, restaurants, the whole nine yards." I looked at Bill like he was crazy. Percy Sutton had just performed the miracle of reopening the shuttered Apollo, but Eighth Ave.? Restaurants? Shops? You're kidding, right?
Bill looked me straight in the eye and said, "mark my words, it's going to happen." It was then I knew this wasn't just Percy Sutton's vision, it was Bill's as well. And it has come to pass.
Bill's life is to be celebrated Thursday. There will be hundreds, if not thousands of people who will join in that celebration. Many of them will have their own memories of the "rumpled genius" , many of them just as non linear as mine.
That's just how Bill was. Rest in peace, my friend.