MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

They know things that even we don’t know.”
— The great Bill Zapf

Thing is, the first time I met Bill Zapf, I made up my mind right there I could never allow myself to like him. Let’s just say I had not yet adapted to his way of devil’s advocate. That all changed in a hurry, though, and soon a very enriching friendship ensued between us. He was by far the most interesting person I have ever known.

Bill, who died on Wednesday, had everybody’s best interests at heart, particularly our city and community. He was devoted to his Catholic faith, Bishop Walsh School and his alma mater, the United States Naval Academy. He adored his children and his brothers and sisters, and was a hopeless romantic.

Bill was owner of Bachman Transfer and Storage/North American Van Lines. His generosity was unmatched, in life and in business. In fact, he was likely too generous, but he didn’t want to hear about it. He cared a great deal for folks who might be down on their luck or who were going through some tough times, though he didn’t want anybody to know that.

Bill was curious by nature and he loved to read. Matter of fact, he gave me a copy of one of the most interesting books I have ever read, “Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America,” by Jim Webb.

He was fascinated with genealogy, his and everybody else’s. He was an advocate and wrote letters to the editor. He gave and took part in charity work. He loved sports, having been a football star at LaSalle High and played football and lacrosse at the Naval Academy. Bill admired his swimming teacher and coach at the Academy a great deal, Coach Steve Belechick, and I enjoyed teasing him that every time I see Steve Belechick’s son, Bill Belechick, I find myself thinking of my sometimes frumpy and seemingly disheveled friend, Bill Zapf, who gallantly served his country in Vietnam.

I loved to tease Bill about everything, which was fair game, because he liked to tease me and ride me about just about everything.

I used to always tell him I knew his gig, that he was a government spy. One day, while I was sitting with Bill and his wife Philomena in a public house, I started on the spy business.

“Not this again,” he said. “I don’t know where you get these things.”

“Come on, Bill,” I said. “You have a Naval intelligence background, you disappear for long periods of time, you hole up for days in a big, ugly warehouse; God knows what goes on in there. And you’re married to a ding-dong. It all fits: spy.”

“Wait a minute,” he said. “Hold on. I take exception to that.”

“What?” I asked.

“My warehouse is not ugly,” he said.

And that, in a nutshell, was the humor of Bill Zapf and the good nature of Philomena, whom Bill loved and has missed for the past 10 years since her passing, who just sat there and laughed right along with us.

Nobody could match the dry sense of humor of Bill Zapf. He may be one of the funniest people I have ever known.

But there was a different side to Bill; there were seemingly many facets to the guy. For instance, he let it be known in subtle ways that he was well aware of my background (I’d bet he was well aware of everybody’s) and he understood some of the things I had dealt with in my life, namely my complicated and next to non-existent relationship with my father, who was also a graduate of the Naval Academy.

Bill took a liking to me for some reason and sort of took me under his wing. He gave me advice in a way that didn’t come across as advice or guidance, but I understood and appreciated that it was. He took care of me and I will miss him terribly.

Thing is, the first time I met Bill Zapf, I thought I would never even like him. As it turns out, I ended up loving the guy.

He knew things that even I didn’t know.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT