Billy Mounger’s life can be capsulized in an adored aphorism, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” — from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1841 essay “Self-Reliance.”
Billy’s breadth of character defied one-dimensional consistency. People comprehending Billy’s compelling complexity found pure pleasure in his company.
I was well-aware, being family friends since schooldays, that Billy Mounger was my sort of man: “Take me as I am or not at all.” A football player and West Point cadet, Billy was a voracious reader, with endless curiosity, who loved ballet and symphony. Those who knew Billy valued his joie de vivre and lust for a belly laugh — never at other’s expense.
Three of Billy’s grandchildren shared the following insights:
Callie, Billy’s oldest grandchild, spoke of Billy’s generosity. “He recognized the evanescence of material things. He’d say, ‘You can’t take it with you.’” His commitment to his community motivated fundraising for organizations, charities and causes about which he was passionate. “He thought that, ‘To whom much is given, much is expected,’ and expected that he — and those around him — must better the world.”
Callie recalled that, above all else, Billy promoted “Mississippi, politics and performance arts, especially the International Ballet Competition. He loved the artistic athleticism inherent in ballet. His involvement in the U.S.A. IBC introduced me to the vast world beyond my Jackson bubble.”
Callie elaborated that, “DeDe adored his alma mater, the United States Military Academy. He flew atomic bombs to Europe during the Cold War and was appointed by President Reagan to the prestigious West Point Board of Visitors. He read over 50 books, annually, and memorized the dictionary for fun.
“DeDe loved listening to symphonies, singing ‘Minnie the Moocher,’ and reading ‘The Night Before Christmas’ to the family, every Christmas Eve.”
The second of Billy’s six grandchildren, Catherine, observed that Billy “achieved what he did because of his sense of humor. It humanized him. People trusted him, never being uncertain what he thought and believed.
“DeDe didn’t act as if somebody had to be one thing. He said, ‘If you like something, embrace it.’ He inspired people to be multidimensional by example, embracing endless opportunities that life offers.
“DeDe never scorned others’ beliefs, valuing originality of thought. His commitment to the arts fostered friendship with people of varying backgrounds. He cherished interacting with interesting, cultured people. He engaged with those from all walks of life. He was genuinely interested in their thoughts and perspectives.”
Catherine commented that Billy loved to see others happy and wanted to see them fully realized. Catherine was drawn to her grandfather’s commitment to the arts, recognizing that insight into artistic expression connected Billy’s life of the mind with the travails of the quotidian.
Catherine laughingly recollected, “Once we were in Washington and attended ‘The Lion King’ at the Kennedy Center. Afterwards, DeDe arranged that I sing on the balcony with the cast, so that I could say that I sang at the Kennedy Center. He fully embraced life. He propelled others to do likewise and realize their potential completely.”
Billy’s oldest grandson William remembered Billy’s inspiring self-improvement in his children and grandchildren. “He was a family man, first and foremost. He came to every sporting event in which I ever participated. He was present.”
William believed Billy was the ultimate role model. “He told the family that he was proud of us. He encouraged us to be ambitious and excel.
“He never pushed priorities upon me. He encouraged me to be myself instead, prioritizing my interests and me as an individual.”
William said that Billy suggested becoming a better person and a leader. He wanted his progeny to develop their strengths and to have insights into their flaws and turn them into strengths as well.
To appreciate Billy means comprehending his commitment to bringing out the best in others. William conveyed that, during their last call, Billy emphasized “that he loved us and that he genuinely cared.” Billy’s family understood that his love was unconditional.
Billy read a poem to his family, every Christmas. December 25, 2019 was the last:
“It is now my ninety-third year!
Praise the Lord! With mind mostly clear,
And also for the years with Jan so dear,
For Billy and Bobby so cavalier
And most of all, through the Bible as seer,
Our LORD and SAVIOR for this worldly sphere!
Oh, yes, THANK GOD! For this ninety-third year!”
This tribute ends employing the Emerson essay at its outset. “...[T]he great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.” Billy Mounger enjoyed sweetness, solitude and independence, offering fullness of expression endearing him to those who knew him. May he rest in peace, fulfilled by the gratitude of a community ameliorated by his 94 years here.
Jay Wiener is a Northsider.