A much-loved Lake Highlands resident faces terminal cancer

For years, Bill Bryan commuted daily by bike from his home near Flag Pole Hill to his job at Southern Methodist University. Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Lake Highlands resident William Jennings Bryan III quit his longtime job at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University this past Ash Wednesday after being diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer, which metastasized into his liver, according to a weekend piece in the Dallas Morning News.

We interviewed Bryan in 2012 for a story (in part) about folks who commute to work by bike, from Lake Highlands.

At least three times a week, at age 60, dressed in his suit, tie and loafers — as well as helmet and riding gloves — Bryan navigated the mean streets between Flag Pole Hill and SMU on his 1972 Raleigh.

Despite his cool demeanor, Bryan was well aware that he regularly risked life and limb. He didn’t let fear stop him from doing what thrilled him.

He knows what he is up against — honks, close calls, motorists’ angry assertions that bikes don’t belong on roads. A time or two, he has dived into grass out of the way of oblivious and fast-approaching drivers … his keen awareness that it can be something like a war zone out there kept him virtually accident free despite many years of this … “I go out knowing each day that at least one driver will make a mistake, or take a shot at me,” he says.

After our discussion it was clear why Bryan is such a beloved teacher, pastor, church member, friend — as he is described in the article about his diagnosis.

He has stories. He is good at telling them. You could listen to him all day. He is kind, funny and smart. He told us about his dad, Sonny Bryan, the BBQ legend.

Like Bill, Sonny Bryan was known and adored for his infectious humor and happiness. Like Bill, Sonny was a cyclist. Like Bill, Sonny was diagnosed with cancer in his early 60s.

Sonny Bryan died in 1989, at age 63, following a short battle with cancer (he reportedly died less than a year after being diagnosed). Bill told us that his dad used to log all of the miles he rode, and in the couple of months after he received his first chemo treatment, he rode 850 miles around his hilly Oak Cliff neighborhood.

“The doctors marveled at how strong his heart and lungs were,” Bill says. He certainly improved his quality of life those last several months by way of this exercise, Bill believes.

Bill Bryan also once sent us a photo of a feral pig, which he snapped while riding into work, and it sort of almost broke our website (at the time, it became one of the most-viewed posts we had ever published). We were unaware then of our pig photographer’s BBQ-king connection, and we regret the missed opportunity that was our lack of pig/BBQ wit.

The most poignant part of Leslie Barker’s piece on Bryan is down near the end, where she quotes from Bryan’s journal, which he started right after the diagnosis. It paints an image of a this man — who so many have come to know as brave, adventurous, confident, happy and loving —wavering between sadness and gratitude, fear and faith in an unknown future.

It’s been plenty, been great, I will not be the 79 years old I expected to be. No 50th wedding anniversary. 

Never get to travel more, musician more, bike more …

Never get old little by little. 

This is a hell of a way to finally get sick once …

As a human he thinks about the logistics — where he wishes to die, where he will be buried, how much he might suffer.

His wife Corinne tells the paper they treat every day as a gift. “I know it sounds trite,” she admits. “But it’s true.”

It helps that Bryan seems to have been living like that for a long time now, if not always.

More details and photos at the DMN page.


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