Choosing a college is a comprehensive choice for most people, and I wasn't completely sure until I took a visit to Aggieland during a football weekend the fall of my senior year of high school. But there was a setup going on in the background; a long con groomed by one special person that had been building up for years.
I don't come from an Aggie family where four generations of uncles and dads and brothers all went there. My Grandpa and his older brother were the only Aggie relatives I had. And Grandma was a Longhorn. Thanksgivings were fairly tense, but growing up watching the Ags of the SWC heyday of the late '80s and early '90s with him was memorable and fun. I remember watching countless Saturday afternoon games on the tiny black-and-white TV in their kitchen out at the ranch or listening on AM radio with the pickup doors open while we sat around in the brush waiting for doves to fly over. Aggie Football became synonymous with good times and good company.
Grandpa grew up in Uvalde, a tall and skinny kid who ran errands for the town pharmacist after school and hauled concrete for the highway department in the summers. He went to Corpus at 18 and joined the Navy because his brother was about to become a Seabee. By the time he was twenty, the war was over and he'd been to Italy, Scotland, France, and half the Pacific as a radar operator on his LST.
When he got home he enrolled at A&M and plowed through, taking summer classes and graduating in three years. He was not in the Corps, as he had the option to not join since he was a returning serviceman. He has always been a wealth of stories, but the one about his time at A&M that sticks out to me is this:
The first few weeks of his stay on campus was rough because the Corps would fire a cannon each morning. He and several of his fellow veterans weren't too keen on this after being under real fire for a few years, so they petitioned the Commandant to not fire the cannon. He refused. So the soldiers and sailors' ingenuity took over and over the next few weeks, several missions to remove the firing pin from the cannon were executed. Eventually, the Commandant grew weary of replacing the firing pins and gave up, leaving them in peace. "All the Commandant had to do was to go check the bottom of the Brazos," he'd say about the firing pins.
After graduation, he went to work. Selling and traveling and making countless connections. Eventually he started his own insurance company. I honestly don't know much about this phase of his life, but whatever he experienced during these prime years turned him into one of the steadiest and dependable people I knew. He met my grandmother six years later, a widow with three young boys. They were married within a month, and stayed married until she passed away over a half-century later.
I spent a lot of time at their place growing up. We were lucky to live nearby. He taught me to fish, helped me learn to drive in an old Jeep, and imparted on me the importance of storytelling and the art of the joke. He was indulgent to a fault, as my sisters will attest, but he was never a pushover. He was a delight to be around and I don't remember anyone ever meeting him and not coming away with a smile.
When it came down to it, I chose A&M because of my Grandpa. He was tough, funny, and selfless, and I wanted to be all those things, and I wanted to find them by following in his footsteps. There was a tangible connection through all of his stories that made me want to experience it for myself as well as to foster yet another bond between us: we would become an exclusive club of two Aggies within the family, and that was a special thing.
Bill Haile, Class of 1950, passed away Sunday afternoon. He was 90 years old, and he was one hell of a man. The world was lucky to have him for so long.