Bill O’Boyle: Make a wish for 'Billy' and his peers

May 13—WILKES-BARRE — When you work in this business and you also are involved with the community, you meet a lot of people.

Many are well-known celebrities or politicians and they, for the most part, are easy to talk to, and many do leave a lasting impression.

And then there are non-celebrities, non-politicians — people of all ages who leave you way more than impressed. They leave you stunned, amazed, and you never forget them.

The little boy's name was "Billy." Not me, but a Make-A-Wish child I met in the late '90s at Pocono Raceway.

This was an encounter I still think of and when I do recall meeting Billy, a smile follows.

I have a photo of Billy in my house. It's in a place where I see it every day, and I think of the day we met.

To this day, I still wonder whatever happened to Billy. He was a Make-A-Wish kid, and his condition back then seemed to be under control, but we never talked again.

So I still do pray for Billy.

Back then, Make-A-Wish chapters from Pennsylvania and other states were invited to visit the Pocono Raceway and to bring some of the children to have them see the tri-oval track, check out the cars and meet some of the drivers.

It was attended by a couple hundred children. And, as I recall, they all had fun.

But before we went inside the raceway, there was a picnic held for the Make-A-Wish children, their parents and volunteers. It was an opportunity for everyone to meet and get to know one another before heading into the raceway.

I met a lot of the children served by Make-A-Wish, which grants wishes to seriously ill children. It's a mission as good as any and to have been a part of the organization for so long was truly an honor.

Each and every child affiliated with Make-A-Wish has a similar story, yet unique. But the common thread is that they all are provided the opportunity to do that one special thing they dream of — their wish.

And it's the kids who make the decision on what the wish will be. When a Wish Team visits a home, one volunteer talks to the parents and gathers information, while the other volunteer speaks to the child and asks him or her what their wish is.

There was no limit on cost, within reason, when granting wishes. And as happy as the wish made the child, everything was cloaked in the sadness that the child may not live much longer. But granting wishes always provided everlasting memories.

Like I said, a wonderful mission. To take the child and the family away from the daily rigors of medications, doctor's appointments, hospital visits, medical tests, worry and concern was a great part of the Make-A-Wish mission.

So while we were at this picnic at Pocono Raceway in the late 1990s, a little boy was walking with his mom. You can see by the attached picture that the kid was cute and he sure did have a great personality.

His mom told me his diagnosis and that Billy had to take many medications, including steroids, to battle his disease. As a result, his mom said Billy got a little chubby, but his attitude never changed.

Billy was always about having fun, his mom said.

So when we talked, Billy asked me a question. He wanted to know if he could sing a song with the band that had been playing for the crowd. I went to the stage and asked the band if they would mind if Billy sang a song. As expected, they welcomed Billy to the stage.

Then I sat down and watched as Billy got up, took the microphone, introduced himself and sang two Johnny Cash songs —"Folsom Prison Blues" and "I Walk the Line."

Billy got a standing ovation — deservedly so. He was pretty darn good for a 5-year-old battling for his life.

Billy came down from the stage, smiling and shaking hands with everybody. The kid was a born entertainer.

Billy was from Texas. After that day, Billy returned to his home to continue his treatments and his mom continued her prayers.

I joined in that prayer group, and I still remember Billy every day.

But something really awesome happened that day. Those of us who just met Billy for the first time knew what a special child he was. He left an indelible mark on the hearts of all who were there.

Make-A-Wish kids always have that effect on people.

I don't know where Billy's life went from that day, or for how long.

But every time I hear Johnny Cash sing, I think of Billy and his zest for living.

On the day after Mother's Day, let's remember Billy and all the other kids like him and their moms, dads, families and friends.

Fire up a Johnny Cash song and sing along — for all the Billys out there.

Reach Bill O'Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.