If Bill Mallard was a book, there would be plenty of stories to share between his covers.
He was a railroad man for 45 years. He marched across south France and Germany as a tank gunner with the 14th Armored Division in World War II. He once brushed elbows with Gen. George Patton and learned a few new words, not many of them suitable for print.
A widower, Bill was blessed with two wonderful wives and two happy marriages. His first wife, Virginia, died of a heart attack. They were married for 30 years. His second wife, Eleanor, died four years ago. They were married for 38 years.
Bill is a busy man, one of those moving targets. He volunteers at his church, Riverside United Methodist. He is the church treasurer, president of his Sunday School class and is involved with the backpack ministry, distributing food every weekend to about 50 children from King-Danforth Elementary School.
He also takes yoga classes at the Wellness Center and is featured in a photograph on the July 2015 calendar page for the Medical Center, Navicent Health.
If there aren’t enough wonderful stories in all of that, how about having the last name “Mallard” and living on Audubon Drive? Or eating pancakes every Saturday morning at Cracker Barrel and ordering an egg over medium, cheese grits, toast and coffee at the Waffle House each Sunday before church?
If Bill Mallard was a book, there would have to be at least 91 chapters -- one for every year of his life.
He won’t be the oldest volunteer at the Friends of the Library Old Book Sale this week. That distinction goes to 93-year-old Lois McLain. But Bill might hold the record for receiving the most hugs on a daily basis.
He moved to Macon in 1937 when he was 14 years old. His father worked for Central of Georgia Railroad, and Bill got a job delivering messages on his bicycle from the Terminal Station to the different railroad offices.
He graduated from Lanier High in February 1942, three months after WWII started. “I had a diploma in one hand and a letter from Uncle Sam in the other,” he said, laughing.
He came home after the war and began his long career with the railroad, working his way up the ladder in management and was promoted to director of labor relations. He moved around almost as much as a Methodist minister before retiring from the Washington, D.C., office and returning to Macon in 1985.
Bill’s adoration of books dates back to his childhood. Reading has always been one of his passions.
“I love to have a book in my hands, to hold it and put a bookmark in it,” he said. “I am always reading three or four books at the same time. I might have one on the kitchen table and another by the sofa. They are always on different subjects, so I don’t mix them up.”
After Eleanor died in 2011, a friend suggested that he volunteer at the Friends of the Library headquarters on Riverside Drive. It was only a mile from his house.
“I came down here and never left,” he said. “My church and Friends of the Library are like my family.”
He oversees the dictionaries, atlases and reference books. He opens the workroom between 7:30 and 8 a.m. every Tuesday and Thursday.
This week, he will hunker down at Central City Park for the sale, which kicks off with tonight’s preview for FOL members, and runs Thursday through Sunday for the general public. There are more than 100,000 books in 75 categories.
“I enjoy being around people,” he said. “I couldn’t sit around on a sofa the rest of my life. When you get to be my age, if you don’t use it, you lose it.
“I met a fellow at the Friends of the Library a few years ago and told him I didn’t know what God had me here for,” Bill said. “I thought I was going to hear some words of wisdom. Then he said: ‘God doesn’t know what to do with us, so he’s going to keep us here until he finds out.’ ”
Contact Gris at 744-4275 or firstname.lastname@example.org.