Sue Knox's eulogy, Bill's sister
Memorial for William Smyth Hirsch

March 23, 1947 – February 10, 2015 By Susan Hirsch Knox Presented at Bill’s memorial service Feb.14, 2015 at Grace Episcopal Church, Muskogee, OK

Good afternoon. I’m Sue Knox, Bill’s older sister. Thank you for coming to celebrate the life of an extraordinary man, Bill Hirsch. You all have been Bill’s family for the last 10 years and I also want to thank you for that. Bill was a very special man with a brilliant mind and immense talent, especially in music. He sang, could play any instrument and composed music. Everywhere he lived he was involved with music; in Austin, it was a Tejano salsa group, in Virginia, bluegrass, here, the church choir and the Renaissance Faire.
I want to tell you about Bill’s original family which may add some insight to Bill as an adult. Our father was a physician. When we were all born he was in the Navy. We moved a lot when we were young until 1950 when he retired from the Navy and we moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where we all grew up. There Dad was involved primarily with nuclear research. Dad was also a talented musician and artist. Mom had two master’s degrees, the first in chemistry and the second in Speech Therapy. She also had a doctorate in Special Education. They had four children.
Fred was the oldest and shared our father’s and Bill’s artistic and musical talents. He graduated from the Chicago Art Institute. Our house was full of musical instruments from piano to clarinets, French horns, and sousaphones. Fred worked as a computer analyst in Los Alamos, NM until he died in his 50’s.
I’m second. I received a BFA from the University of New Mexico. Following college, I joined the Peace Corps and went to Arequipa, Peru where I worked in a school for children with disabilities. I met my husband, Bob in Peru and we got married there 50 years ago. When we returned to California where Bob grew up, I got a master’s degree and later a PhD in Occupational Therapy. I am a pediatric occupational therapist and I am retired from the clinic but I do a lot of continuing education for therapists. I sang in choirs rather than play an instrument and I am also an artist and craftsperson, particularly in the areas of ceramics and jewelry.
The next to come is Peter. He was diagnosed with classic autism when he was 3. After his birth, things changed and a lot of the family emphasis was on him as there were limited opportunities for training and education. My parents were fierce advocates for children with disabilities and started programs for these children wherever we lived. Peter has very limited speech but he also is a talented artist and craftsman and is savant in many ways. He works for Stride,making and packaging markers and pens. He lives in a group home (which was our family’s home) in Albuquerque.
Last, but certainly not least is Bill. After high school he joined the Navy and was stationed in Okinawa as an electronics technician. Following the Navy he went to the University of New Mexico. It took him 10 years off and on to get a general studies degree. If he didn’t like a class he would drop it and take another. During that time he worked a variety of jobs mainly in restaurants.When he was 31 he left home in his VW van to find places he enjoyed and whatever work he could get. He traveled around the country, living out of his van or truck, doing day labor and construction work for 22 years before settling in Lawrence, KS. Bill has written that he prefers this kind of work over more permanent employment because it gives him freedom, he doesn't have to compete or supervise, and the value is in a “job well done”. He also wrote that doing something he “loves” should not be connected with making money. He stated,”If I want to do what I really love, I’ll be more able to do it if I do it only for love. I’ll obtain money by doing things that may tire my body, but don’t exhaust my spirit.” Bill bought his home here in 2004 and he spent the last 10 years fixing it up and what he has done is quality work.
As I said in the beginning, Bill was an extraordinary man. His interests were eclectic and he had an extensive library of books about everything from World War II to different religions and cultures. He spoke and read many languages,most self-taught, such as Latin, Greek, German, Japanese, and most recent Arabic. As you know, he was a cross dresser, because he felt most comfortable in women’s clothes. He said it gave him more freedom and he liked the feel of dresses. He even liked panty hose, which is something I and many other women hate.
Bill’s family loves were three: First, this church and its choir and it’s acceptance of him and his lifestyle. Second, the Renaissance family where he played the Celtic harp and penny whistle. Third, the Rainbow family. He has been to the Rainbow gatherings since the 60’s and has written two books about them. Bill is known as Butterfly Bill (his rainbow name). He got the name when he was emerging from his sleeping bag in his tie dye shirt and a friend stated that he looked like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon. The Rainbows let him emerge and develop into the extraordinary man he was and this church and the Renaissance Faire have given him opportunities to thrive. And that I thank you for from the bottom of my heart.


Bob Wickizer's eulogy, minister at Grace Episcopal Church

Andy Warhol once remarked that “In the future everyone will be world famous for fifteen minutes.” You may not know this but Bill had his fifteen minutes early in his career when as a young man serving in the Navy and stationed in Okinawa Japan Bob Hope visited the troops for a performance. His sister was watching the live broadcast when the camera panned across a grinning, bearded young man standing right next to Bob Hope. It was Bill.
Our baptismal prayer gives us a good summary of Bill’s faith where for each person baptized we ask God to“Give him an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.”
That early TV shot of Bill gives us an insight into Bill the iconoclast. I don’t know how he managed to maintain a beard while serving in the Navy but I do know that he seemed to enjoy the attention of being on camera anywhere. You will find photographs of Bill standing behind the bishop during the ground breaking ceremony here at Grace. You can find photographs of Bill with his musical instruments at the Renaissance Festival. You can find images of Bill on various websites. By his very choice of clothing and demeanor he demanded that you think about what God has created. And it is all good.
In our modern world of excess and striving after vainglory Bill carved a different path. He lived simply. That may sound like an ultimate compliment like comparing someone to Walden or Thoreau, but the reality of simple living can be quite different. It meant that he was often hungry. I cannot tell you the number of times I stood at the end of the buffet line after church when he took the last piece of chicken just ahead of me. While that was momentarily annoying for me, it was actually a good spiritual exercise. I needed to subsume my own desires for my parish. I needed to recognize that Bill was in need of protein a lot more than I was. And I needed to give him the greater glory. These are the vows that I made as a priest and Bill helped remind me of some truly important things.
Bill adopted the nickname“Butterfly Bill” because at one of his famous Rainbow gatherings, he emerged from a sleeping bag one morning wearing his trademark colorful clothes and a friend observed that he looked like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon.
Across North America the Monarch butterfly migrates 2,500 miles every year to warmer climates. While we all know the classic stages of eggs, caterpillar, chrysalis, butterfly those stages may be appropriate metaphors for our own journey from birth to death to life again. You should know that the week Bill died, his sister watched two Monarchs emerge from their cocoons. We are here today with confidence that Bill is one of those beautiful spirits forever glorifying the Creator and resting in eternal light.

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