Category Archives: The long goodbye

William Edward Thomas 1925-2014

On 19th February 2014, my grandfather, William E. Thomas, author of the Cypress Branches trilogy, finally lost the greatest battle of his life and passed away. He went peacefully, surrounded by his family. He was 88 years old.

William had been battling the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease for well over a decade. A strong and dignified man, he kept his illness in place for as long as he could and managed to outlive all predictions. Although the family is devastated by his loss, we are also relieved that he is no longer suffering or in pain.

A private funeral for family and friends was held in William’s home town of Milton Keynes on 7th March. His ashes will be interred with his wife in their final resting place – a beautiful green burial ground overlooking the rolling Buckinghamshire countryside – later this month.

William led a full and active life. Soldier, sailor, airman, engineer, technician, scholar, comedian, union man, family man, writer…these are just a few of the roles he played. He has left behind an incredible legacy, which includes his literary work, which is now being enjoyed by an ever growing audience, his engineering successes, and his large and loving family who are all missing him dearly.

The family would like to thank all of William’s readers around the world for the interest and support they have shown in both the man himself and his writing over the last few years. It is gratifying to know that despite William no longer being with us, his voice will continue to be heard through his books for many years to come.

We would like to invite anyone who wishes to, to make a donation in William’s memory to the Alzheimer’s Society, the UK’s leading support and research charity for people with dementia, their families and carers. Their work touches the lives of over 30,000 people every week, providing practical services and support for those affected. You can make a donation by visiting their website here.

William with his wife Sheila, who passed away in March last year,
 at the launch of Pegasus Falling in 2012. 

Alzheimer’s and the author: The long goodbye

As many of you will know, William has Alzheimer’s. He began showing signs of dementia shortly after finishing writing the Cypress Branches 15 years ago. Since then, his health has deteriorated steadily and he is now cared for in a home in Milton Keynes in the UK.

It has been a struggle for the family to see a man so vibrant and intelligent in life slowly slip away from us.

Browsing through some old photos a few days ago, I found three photos of William with his wife Sheila, each taken 3 years apart covering the last six years. It is both remarkable and heartbreaking to see the difference in each photo.

The first was taken in April 2006 on a holiday in Somerset.

Author and Alzheimer's sufferer William & wife Sheila on holiday 2006

The next was taken three years later, at the launch of the hardback book in July 2009.

Author and Alzheimer's sufferer William & wife Sheila at book launch 2009

And most recently, this one, taken in March 2012, at the launch of Pegasus Falling.

Author and Alzheimer's sufferer William & wife Sheila in 2012

Alzheimer’s is called “the long goodbye” for a reason. I was asked recently during a radio interview whether the family had said goodbye and the question floored me for a second. Although William’s personality and vitality has diminished rapidly in the last six years, there are still glimmers of him that come through. On most occasions, he won’t talk and rarely recognises members of his own family. We’re all prepared for the inevitable. He’s not going to get any better. And we’ve all been saying goodbye for a while now, but it’s so hard to do.

When, all of a sudden, he’ll fix you with a knowing stare and say, “hello mate”, instead of saying goodbye, you want to reach into that mind of his and say hello back, start a conversation, ask him what he’s been up to and share a joke or two. It would be wonderful to be able to claw back the man who wrote such incredible books, and to ask him the many questions I have about them.

Instead, the moment passes all too quickly and the understanding is gone again.