My brother, Val, passed away two weeks ago.   He was my big brother, big in every sense of the word.

Val was 6 feet tall when he was 12. He finally topped out at 6’ 4”.  I was three years younger and of average height – if not a little small for my age.  I didn’t reach my full height until college.

During our early years, we tried to kill each other on a regular basis.  We fought, as brothers do, about everything and anything.

One of our on-going quarrels had to do with the light in the bedroom we shared.  I was a voracious reader.  I would start a book and stay up until I finished it, often reading far into the night.  Val complained the light kept him awake and responded by opening our bedroom window, letting in mosquitoes, moths, and half of flying creation.  I would tell him to close the window.  He would tell me to turn out the light.  Often or not, a fight would break out somewhere in between.

One night I fell asleep with the light on.  Val got up to turn off the light and noticed my mouth was open.  Out of irritation, he took the opportunity to teach me a lesson.  He caught a live moth and dropped it in my mouth.  I woke with a start and then threw up on him.

Largely, we entertained our selves by aping whatever we saw on television or in the movies. We watched wrestling with our grandfather so when my brother grabbed me by the seat of my pants and threw me into a corner bedpost, splitting my head open, I knew what to do. I hit him with a folding chair.  Chipped two teeth.

When we saw Clark Gable playing a big game hunter catch a tiger in a Burmese tiger trap, we thought that was pretty cool and had to give it a shot – never mind Burma was on the other side of the world and no one could remember the last time anyone saw a Tiger in Utah.  We dug a pit in a vacant lot between our house and the Parmaleys – our neighbors to the left – and camouflaged it with weeds and dirt.  Two days later, we were excited to see the trap had been sprung and disappointed when we found the pit empty.  We decided we hadn’t dug the hole deep enough until we found out Mrs. Parmaley had fallen in and broken a leg.

The movie Ivanhoe inspired us to organize our own jousting tournament.  We invited the entire neighborhood to compete.  We cut off the end our mothers’ brooms, sharpened the ends as best we could, and rode full tilt at each other on our bikes, trying to unseat each other.  It is a wonder we didn’t kill someone.

Westerns were far and away our favorite form of entertainment.  When we weren’t watching cowboys and Indians, we were played cowboys and Indians.  Once Val let me be the cowboy, a treat because everyone knows the cowboys always win.  My excitement disappeared with I found myself “tied to the stake” in the coal shed.  Val piled some kindling at my feet, lit a fire, and left when mom call lunch.  I wriggled free and joined him without thinking much more about it until the fire department arrived.  We burned the coal shed to the ground.

The fighting diminished as we got older and stopped when Val went off to college.  I followed him to Washington and attended GWU for no better reason than Val was there. He was a political science major.  I became a political science major.  He went to law school.  I went to law school.  And, of course, we both went to work on Capitol Hill.

Marty Walsh, our friend of long-standing, gave me his perspective on our relationship last week.  “You and Val were more than brothers,” Marty said. “You were each other’s inspiration.  He was Butch Cassidy, you were the Sundance Kid.”

In many ways, Marty is right.  When Val wanted to test the quality of care in Medicaid clinics, I was the one who led a team of investigators posing as Medicaid patients for a year while Val provided political cover for the effort.  When Val said it would be neat if we could get a look at the second set of books we knew suspect clinics kept, I was the one who found a clinic for sale in the Bronx, posed as a buyer, and tried to get a look at the real books, winding up with a mobster taking me for an enlightening ride in his car, his German Shepherd sitting on the floor between my legs, his head inches from my crotch.

At one point, we held parallel positions at the House and Senate.  Val was Counsel and Director of Oversight for the Democrats in the House.  I held the same position working for the Republicans who controlled the Senate.  A hired gun came into my office with his tail in a bunch one morning.  He said those guys on the House side were giving his client a hard time.  I asked him if the lead investigator was a big guy and he said, “Yes.”  Was he tough and aggressive?  “Yes. Yes.”   Sure sounds like my brother, I said. I wouldn’t mess with him if I were you.   We never saw him again.

When one of the six trade associations representing the home health industry approached Val looking for an executive director, he recruited me.  Four years later, when we merged these associations into the National Association for Homecare, I recruited him.  Two years later, he recruited me to run a related foundation.  In all, we worked side by side for more than 30 years.

As I think of Val now, the words of Henri Nouwen come to mind. “The great challenge remains to find the eternal in the midst of the temporary,” Nouwen said, “to touch what remains in what passes and to love the ever living God in the love of the quickly passing family of people.”

Amen to that, Big Brother.  Rest in peace.  Life pulled us apart from time to time, but we were always at our best when we were together.  We will be together again.

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29 Responses to Brothers

  1. Don Sodo says:

    Very well said and clearly deeply felt. Thanks, Bill

  2. What a sweet tribute to your Butch Cassidy. May he rest in peace and may your reunion be a joyous one.

  3. Christina says:

    How spectacularly awful you were to one another! Though so funny in the retelling. How spectacularly wonderful you were for and to each other. So loving in the retelling. How lucky you are to be brothers then, now and always.

  4. Craig Everly says:

    I really enjoyed this Bill. It was beautifully written and I enjoyed hearing about some more of the Halamandaris boys’ shenanigans again. It is a great tribute to your brotherhood. Rest in peace Val.

  5. Clarice Elder says:

    Beautifully written and a joy to read. The stories of yesteryear were marvelous…I can see the two of you now battling it out. Don’t know which tale got to me more – the moth in your open mouth or your being tied to the stake. This a perfect inspirational piece. Well done! Love, Clarice

  6. Dina Howell says:

    Sorry for your loss of your dear brother. What amazing lives and memories. I laughed out loud reading about the shenanigans. Much love to all of you. Dina

  7. Bill Giles says:

    Thanks for Sharing Bill, so sorry for your loss.

  8. Jacob Green says:

    Powerful tribute Bill. I have strong memories of meeting Val in DC, and watching the two of you razz each other. Makes me smile. I wish you strength and peace.

  9. Melissa Morgan says:

    Dear Bill this is such a beautiful recollection of your brotherhood.

    I have always been so inspired by you both …and know that what you two build together has impacted so many peoples lives in so many positive and wonderful ways, including my own!

    I love you dear friend

  10. Marian Sprague says:

    Bill, I had not heard a single one of these great childhood stories. What marvelous images they invoke. I can’t believe either of you survived–but survived you did, and side by side. Lovely tribute to brotherhood.

  11. Linda Landwirth says:

    These were new stories for me, too! Both of you shared the same thoughts of justice and righteousness, but more importantly, you thought of each other first to fill those positions when something important came along. Surely a yin-yang relationship. Know you miss him, but like you said, one day you will see each other again. Sending lots of love your way, Linda

  12. says:

    I still love you more💗💞💖. Sending you hugs my friend. You are in my thoughts and prayers… xo

  13. dear bill, what an amazing tribute, so much humour and such a great description of the bonds between siblings…. thank you for sharing, with love and with sympathy mary x

  14. Jeff Atwater says:

    Bill, thank you for sharing…I will always remember the day I met you both when Hugh and I flew into Washington DC. He told me we were having dinner with two brothers who are extraordinary men. When we got off the plane a couple guys grabbed my suit case, found me a snack, and drove me to the hotel, carried my luggage to the check-in counter and I recall thinking this place offers great service. As Hugh and I got to our rooms I said to him, “when do I get to meet these two brothers Val and Bill?” He smiled and said, “you already met them…they were the guys carrying your luggage.” Yes, I had already met the two brothers…two brothers in service to others…sharing the best of humanity to challenge the rest of humanity. I know I am blessed by the challenges the two of you gave me a glimpse at seeing…Godspeed my friend.

  15. Alvin (Al) Lawing says:

    Dear Bill: I simply cannot conceive having the pleasure of having a brother and all the
    pleasures, discovery, success & and all that goes with a brother. I know you had a
    wonderful experience of growing up together and all the things that you and Val had
    the pleasure of accomplishing during your short time together. I know you both will have
    the pleasure of looking forward to seeing each other, to be together again! Thanks for
    sharing your love, with sympathy to a wonderful family.

  16. Tom Cline says:

    This is you at your writer’s best, Bill; side-splittingly funny when you describe your childhood escapades, serious in talking about your work, and poignant in remembering what you and Val meant to each other. Thank you for sharing!

  17. Susan Ransom Klemmer says:

    Oh, Bill. Having lost my own brother recently I can empathize. What a beautiful tribute in your wonderful story-telling voice. Thank you for sharing. Sending so much love.

  18. Hollye Gaman says:

    I’m so sorry to hear about Val’s passing, Bill. Brotherhood sure seems like a very special relationship, definitely in your and Val’s case. Bless your parents’ hearts for getting through your childhoods. And your poor neighbor! What a blessing that you two had each other for so long and will again.

  19. Carol Gore says:

    Thank you for this beautiful tribute to your brother you are both so special Val is always with you

  20. So sorry for your loss.

  21. Dayle Berke says:

    What a beautiful tribute, Bill. I was devastated to hear about Val. Please accept my deepest sympathy.

  22. Carol Gaylor says:

    Tim – I am deeply sorry to hear that you’ve lost your brother. I can’t begin to imagine losing one of my siblings. Your tribute to him made laugh and cry. I wish I had known him. Peace to you my friend.

  23. Matthew Barrick says:

    Bill, we never met formally, but I worked for your brother for fifteen years at NAHC. He was a great mentor for me and provided, as he did for many, a huge boost to my career. I own him a great deal and try to do so in my representation to others. Your relationship with Val sounds all to familiar to the one I have with my older brother. As you miss him dearly, know that so many stand by your side in his absence. As in having a big brother like Val, it is nice to know that so many share your love and remembrance of him.

  24. Janice J. Keller says:

    Dear Bill,
    I really enjoyed reading about you and Val. It brought back many crazy memories of our four sons doing similar antics, including digging a pit in the back yard! So sorry for your loss, but I know you will have a happy reunion with him one day. Take care, Janice

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