Longtime WRCB news anchor Bill Markham passed away in the early morning hours of Monday, April 15, 2019. His daughter Mandy posted this on Facebook: “He’s free. No more ALS. No more pain. My very favorite person in all the world is now my very favorite angel."
I owe a lot to Bill. He was one of the first people to welcome me at Channel 3 when I began working there in 1987. He suggested my family relocate to the home we still live in today. He even suggested I write a book about Chattanooga radio and television, which ended up enriching my life in many ways.
Bill waged a brave battle against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. It is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.
Bill retired in 2009, and he and his wife Gail enjoyed his retirement. I didn’t see Bill often in recent years, but we kept up on Facebook, and since we were both old Alabama boys, we shared a love for the Crimson Tide.
My co-anchor Cindy Sexton worked with Bill even before their WRCB days (he came first, and recruited her two years later). Many north Alabama viewers remember them from Huntsville TV in the early 1980s.
Bill was a joy to work with. Always smiling, sharing slightly off-color jokes with a twinkle in his eye. He was our go-to for everything automobile-related, since his off-air hobby was buying, selling, and even racing cars.
Bill loved regaling us with tales from his reporting days, when he struck up friendships with Johnny Unitas, Johnny Cash, and many others. One of his hobbies was applying for every vacant NFL head coaching job. He knew he would never get one, but he had a great collection of rejection letters from just about every NFL team.
Here is a post from Bill’s son Matt Markham, posted on Facebook April 13:
Yesterday was one of the hardest days in my life, and more will be coming in a handful of days. Knowing my dad’s health was in rapid decline, over the past few months I have been preparing myself mentally to say goodbye. I wanted to tell him how special he is, how much I appreciated all of the lessons he has taught me, apologize for the (debatable number of) times I acted like a jerk, but most importantly tell him I love him.
Last night we sat alone in his bedroom and had that talk. We laughed, we cried, and we both gave each other a little more of the strength we need to get through this. I am now closer to accepting that in a few short days my dad will only live in our hearts and stories. There won’t be any more halftime and post-game phone calls to discuss what Bama did right and wrong. When I have a question about life, he won’t be there to give me advice but point out that he can’t tell me what decision I should make. Waffle House visits will have a little more meaning. My father, my hero, and my closest friend will no longer be a short drive or a phone call away.
I want to pray and beg God for another day with him, but I don’t. I know what dad wants, and I want the same for him. I am ready for his suffering to be over and for his next set of wings to be pinned on. He will be the first to tell you that he has lived a wonderful life, but even that is an understatement. Dad has lived the life of a dozen people, and has the stories, photos, posters, and friends to back them up. I have always compared his journeys and tales to a mix between “Forrest Gump” and “Big Fish”. He just always seemed to be a step ahead and in the perfect place at the perfect time. There is also an added peace in knowing there is a long line of characters forming at the Pearly Gates preparing to welcome their newest incoming member and old friend.
If you have a moment today, say a prayer for us. Pray for my dad to struggle no more. Pray for our family to have strength. Pray for a cure for ALS. Also, for those of you that know dad, say a prayer and give thanks for the wonder gift we have been given in him. The world is losing a special man, but Heaven will be gaining a special angel.”
I worked with him for more than twenty years, and there was never a bad day. I hope you’ll keep Bill’s family in your prayers as they go through this difficult time.