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(l to r) Steve Romig, Wally Cates, Harry Crosby and Joe Roche in October 1995.
Last Friday, I was given the most difficult writing assignment of my life.
My aunt Pam asked me to write the obituary for my uncle Wally, whose battle with pancreatic cancer had ended at 3 a.m. that morning.
Wally wasn’t just any uncle, as Pam isn’t just any aunt.
For all of my childhood, the Cates family and the Romig family were together as part of the Riley clan with my grandparents, Clyde and Vera (Papa and Bee), playing an active role in the lives of their daughters Pam and Sandra, their sons-in-law Wally and Steve and their four grandchildren, myself and my brother Bryan and our cousins, Gina and Abby.
This was our family. The two couples were the best of friends, and the four kids were essentially siblings.
We grew up in the same church. We spent every holiday together. We ate Sunday lunch often.
And we’re still all amazingly close to this day.
When my dad died in February 1996, Wally and Pam scooped up our family and took care of us.
Wally was like a second dad to me and especially to Bryan, who was only 13 when our dad died.
This was his second battle with cancer, and he fought it bravely and without complaint.
Wally loved Pam. He loved his girls, his son-in-law, Josh, and his grandchildren, Jackson and Riley.
He loved his extended family, his church family and his tennis family.
During Wally’s memorial service on Sunday, our family friend, Dr. Luke Pruitt, gave the eulogy and said Wally was his best friend, but that there were dozens of other people in the church who would say the same thing. Because that’s how Wally was. A great man, and a great friend.
My dad didn’t have lots of close friends.
But Wally was his best friend, and Steve would have been so proud of Wally for how hard he fought, and he would have been so grateful to Wally for taking care of his family for the past 16 years.
As Wally laid in a coma last Thursday night, I had a final chance to thank him for everything he’d done for us and to tell him how much we loved him and how much we will miss him.
And before I said goodbye, I told him that I was sure Steve had a tennis court ready for them in heaven.
When we buried Wally on Sunday, we were able to place fresh flowers on my dad’s grave, because these two old friends were buried in line with each other in our family plot.
But they’re not there. They’re in a much better place, playing all the tennis they want without any pain.
We love you Wally. Rest in peace.
The Riley, Cates and Romig families on June 22, 2002 at Jeff & Kacy’s wedding. Wally (left) passed away exactly 10 years later, on June 22, 2012.