Will Huggins, 49
Most everyone who knew Willy would tell you that doing the right thing was second nature to him and that decency was his compass. They’d also mention that signature grin of his, the one that spread so often across his face, wide and easy. To be greeted by that smile was to feel, in that moment, that life was good.
And for Willy, it was, up until Oct. 26, 2020, when he passed away after a valiant 12 years of living with cancer. He was 49.
In the midst of his cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatments, he was both surprised by and greatly appreciative of the love and support shown to him and his family by his friends and community, not realizing he was simply on the receiving end of the love he’d been extending to them for much of his life.
With this in mind and the collective help of dear friends, the I WILL Foundation was created for the sole purpose of helping others, most of them strangers, whose lives were impacted by the financial challenges that often accompany a cancer diagnosis. With that, the annual New Year’s Mattapoisett Polar Plunge fundraiser was born and every year for the last eight years, escalating numbers of people continue to show up in bathing suits, ready to jump into icy waters for the sake of those who might need some help. In addition, Willy participated in the Pan-Mass Challenge, a grueling two-day cycling fundraiser for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
If you ever doubted the power of someone setting a good example just by being themselves, look no further. Willy aced it. In his work life, which he loved, no one sported a pencil behind the ear quite like Willy. His aesthetic sense was deftly honed and mixed with his integrity and extensive ability. He had become that guy, the one who you wanted to build your house or renovate your kitchen. You could trust him to do it right. He could take an idea and a few building materials and turn them into something absolutely beautiful, seemingly without effort. Both his clients and his co-workers commented on the skill and craftsmanship he brought to the job. He was proud of his work and if not, he’d rip it out and start again, always on his dime.
Friendships were anchors in Willy's life and they came in all shapes and sizes. He showed up for them and they for him. Some were new, others lifelong, and all were valued. Those who knew him trusted him, confided in him, and would have been honored to have him in their lifeboat. It’s not just anyone who builds and puts up a 6 foot plywood heart, painted red, on a friend’s lawn. It’s not just an acquaintance who gives up a whole weekend to help repair your roof, barn or spirit. He was always happy to share his love of music or a game on TV, and he brought gusto and consideration to your table. If Webster had known him, Willy's face would have been next to the word ‘friend’ in that book of his.
The very best, though, the very thing he loved most — more than being on his bike or playing golf, more than Bob Dylan or Jose Gonzalez or the hundreds of other musicians he revered, more than a perfect evening at the beach with his posse of friends, more than any or all of those combined — was walking through his front door, a portal of sorts, into his favorite world. If friends were his anchor, his family was his rock. His wife, Michelle, to whom he was married for 21 years, served (in no particular order) as his best friend, true love, co-collaborator in all things beautiful, prolific idea exchanger, loving and tireless caregiver, ardent champion and occasional nemesis. His kids, Willy, now grown, plus Cy and Olive, still at home, were his light and nestled in his heart the way only kids can do. He was a proud and engaged Dad and he was full of applause and support for the wide variety of things that interested them. He hugged them a lot. He shared with them the magic of books and tools and the natural world. He insisted on courtesy, showed them respect, and encouraged their inner superheroes. Willy plus kids equaled joy. As Michelle has said, he was the breath of the family. He will be fiercely missed.
For their enormous help and loving kindness, many thanks to Willy’s brother, Brian, his oldest son, Willy, and his friends, Marcia, Joel, and Julie. Special thanks to the outstanding doctors and staff at Dana-Farber for their steady and tireless efforts; Tom Clancy, Jeff Meyerheardt, Colleen Chin, Michael Casey, Harvey Mammon, Paul Shyn, Sanjeet Narang, and Pritesh Topiwala.
In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation to the Dana-Farber Hospital. A memorial for Willy will be held sometime in the spring.