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Thursday, May 24, 2012
The last ride of Bear and Billy

By Edward Aschoff

ESPN.com's Wright Thompson has a story on Billy Varner, who was former Alabama coach Bear Bryant's longtime driver:
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Something important is being lost. Each rising sun takes a little more from the couple who live in the small brick home southwest of downtown. Billy Varner has been married to Susie for 57 years, and as her life was once spent waiting on him to get home from a job that didn't know hours or days off, now it's spent managing his dementia. Each day brings its own reality. On the worst, Billy, who is 76, doesn't recognize Susie. He'll dress in the middle of the night and try to leave, his pajamas rolled up in his hand. Regularly, he refuses to believe that his old boss isn't at home waiting for a ride. Billy was Bear Bryant's driver, bodyguard and valet, one of the few remaining people who knew him as a human being. As Billy's memory fades, that knowledge disappears with it, widening the gulf between truth and imagination.

Billy tells Susie that he talks to the coach. Sometimes Bryant visits.

"Coach Bryant isn't dead," he'll say. "Don't tell me he's dead."

"Billy," Susie tells him, "yes, he is."

To read the complete story, click here.