Wednesday, November 1, 2023
2:00 - 3:00pm (Eastern time)
Ralph William “Bill” French, 78, of Clemson, passed away peacefully on October 17, 2023. The following was written by Bill in 2003 to be shared with his friends.
“I’ve been asked recently to write up a few paragraphs about myself. I hesitate to do this since I can’t imagine that the outline of my life would be of interest to others, and since I generally think of autobiography as one of the less impressive forms of fiction. Nonetheless, I’ll try to comply in the only way I can.
Briefly, I was born in the town of Ithaca in Upstate New York. This is a region of hills and lakes and gorges, and in exploring it as a youngster, I developed a lifelong interest in waterfalls and the phenomena of geology. In 1965, I moved with my parents to Clemson, South Carolina, which happily has its own share of geographical wonders.
I cannot say I was ever educated, or that I ever shall be, but I modified my ignorance at least through observation and experience, through schooling at Cornell and Clemson Universities, through conversations with perceptive friends, and through a profound companionship with my family library, where books and music held a place of honor. There, I explored as much as possible the subjects of history (which I had thought some day to teach), literature, music, politics, demography, philosophy, geography, and those sciences which give insight into the workings of the human mind. In the process, I became the irreclaimable Romantic individualist I am today. I explained to my relentlessly contemporary critics that I was born an antique and have since steadily regressed.
As it happened, soon after we arrived in South Carolina, my parents, very much older than I, began a long and daunting journey through physical decline, and most especially, Alzheimer’s disease. I knew that if my studies of the human spirit were to mean anything at all, they would have to be applied and adapted to this new adventure. And so for the next twenty-nine years, I was privileged to walk with my mother and father through their many trials, and to explore with them the most humbling essence of consolation, fulfillment, and even joy. My pilgrimage was often stumbling and hesitant and fraught with error, but I strove above all things to bring a measure of comfort to those two souls who had always tried their best.
My father died in 1980, my mother at the end of 1996. Since then, I have helped out at the local Alzheimer’s support group, and I’ve tried to share with my friends a part of what I have learned.
There is no way to put into brief form the way of thinking that has sustained me along the way, but perhaps it will serve to list a few of the principles and ideals I have hoped, however imperfectly, to follow. I believe to the marrow of my being that in living, one should raise up a few, and bring no one lower; that Old Age should be not a sin, but a promise; that Age, indeed, is obliged to be grand, while Youth is obliged to honor that grandeur; that simplicity in living frees us for complexity in thinking; that one who asks is wiser than one who tells, and that one who listens says more than one who speaks; that it is better to be the master of one’s own doubts than the prisoner of other men’s certainties; that there can be no haste in the presence of another’s just need; that one should strive to be productive without being busy; that one must shun all celebrity, since Fame is less the soil to nurture deeds than the clutter to choke them; that it is less terrible to be cheated than to cheat; that the search for wisdom begins not at the tables of the mighty, but at the bedsides of the frail; that if you have been worthy toward one who suffers, you must despise all reward, save that he, in his turn, should be worthy to some other; that hospitality, the Knightly virtues, and high chivalry can endure though we stand amid the ashes; that if one approaches you in anguish and leaves somewhat in peace, then your table is blessed, and your lodging is built of the stars; that our tragedy lies not in death, but in the misspent life, and the misread heart; that the Good Life consists in pursuing the Ideal, and the Great Life in attaining it.
Here, then, are a few of the lodestars, Hang them high enough before our gaze, and they will light our passage through the darkest confines of the night.”
A time of remembrance for Ralph William "Bill" French will be held Wednesday, November 1, 2023 from 2:00 p.m. until 3:00 p.m. in the Corley Center at Clemson Downs.
Duckett-Robinson Funeral Home is serving Mr. French.