March 27, 2021


When Joe Rowden joined the Navy during World War II, he brought Tootsie and their three young sons to Athens.  They’d been living in Maryville, where their third son Bill was born.  They rented a brick house across Decatur Pike from us in the log house—and my childhood took on a new dimension. It was like suddenly having three little brothers!

Bill was a chubby baby—and around his first birthday, he began clinging to his mother—screaming if he were laid down.  While watching him one day, Mother noticed the pupil of one eye seemed larger than the other.  Tootsie took him to the doctor, who immediately referred him to specialists.  Within a month, he was at Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville undergoing brain surgery.  Joe was able to get an emergency leave to come be with Tootsie for the surgery and postop recovery. 

Dr. Cobb Pilcher was a brilliant neurosurgeon at Vanderbilt who did Bill’s operation.  A benign tumor as large as a lemon was removed.  Dr. Pilcher said within weeks, Bill would have been blind as the tumor was pressing on his optic nerve.  Bill made a great recovery—and continued to go for routine follow ups at Vanderbilt for years.  The doctors would always call him “a miracle.”  We thought so, too!

Bill adored his PawPaw Arley—and loved nothing more than spending time with him.  He was definitely “one of the boys” and in on all our fun together.  This photo shows Bill (probably about 4 years old), suntanned and shirtless, hanging out with me at the Athens Photo Service store downtown.  We’d probably gone there to pick up some photos we’d had developed—because that’s what we used to do!

Bill grew up to be a fine man—tenderhearted and kind. He’s always kept his slender build, his sweet smile and his courage.  Here is his high school graduation photograph.  Happy birthday, Bill!  You are our best surprise.

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