My dad passed away just shy of four months ago, after a long, hard-fought battle with multiple sclerosis. He was 67. He was known for his dry sense of humor and his knowledge of the cattle industry.
This tribute was originally published in the January 2019 issue of Hereford World magazine.
He chose show day of the North American to take his final breath. Fitting, as it was his favorite show of all. He used to say, “There’s just something about those green shavings.”
From what we were told, a few moments of silence were taken during the shows in the days that followed. Judges mentioned his name and the influence he had on their lives as they gave their championship drive speeches. Some needed a moment outside of the barns to gather themselves, after they heard the news, before they began fitting that day.
His casket was branded with his C-Bar brand by his closest friends, and my brother led a riderless horse, with his saddle and boots, following the car carrying him to his final resting place.
There were some trucks and trailers in the church parking lot, loaded with cattle from Louisville. One even had a national champion bull on board.
A few cattlemen brought green shavings for him to have by his casket. And when he was buried, some close friends, my brother, and my son Nolan sprinkled those shavings onto the casket before he was lowered into the ground.
I have been blown away by the messages and stories and outpouring of love and support we have been shown in the past few weeks. To many, he was a mentor. Some have called him a legend. Everyone called him “friend.” But to me? He was simply “dad.”
Nearly everyone who knew him has a story to share about “Couch,” as most in the cattle business called him. And if you didn’t know they were true, you wouldn’t believe them. (They may be embellished a bit, but they’re true nonetheless.)
I love hearing these stories – even more now than ever before. And it brings me such joy to see our cattle-loving 10-year-old son, Nolan, light up and hang on every word that’s said. (Some stories need to be saved for when he’s older, though.)
But above all, the memories of Bill Couch as “dad” are what bring me the most comfort these days.
He was the strongest man I ever knew. As a child, I thought he could do anything. He never shied away from hard work, and he was out in the fields and working cattle from sunup to well past sundown every day. I always felt safe and protected with those arms around me.
In the past few years, when he succumbed to being bedridden in the nursing home from multiple sclerosis, he was still the strongest man I ever knew. Just in a different way. He rarely complained about pain or the situation. And the pain was tremendous. But he had every nurse, staff member and laundry worker laughing. And when he passed? There was a line out his door of those workers wanting to say a final “goodbye.”
He didn’t care about money or status during any point of his life. Sure, he could visit with the big-money investors of the ranches he managed. But he was just as comfortable – maybe even more so – visiting with the feed man who was making a delivery. And he carried that through to the end.
Dad never cared about fancy things. Just ask his friends – he didn’t really care about vehicles, and you probably didn’t want to ride in a truck he was driving. When I was a kid, we would get many a show meal from a fast-food line or the gas station near the hotel. “You can get just as full from a gas station as you can from a restaurant.” One friend brought him a Snickers bar and Mountain Dew to take with him as he was buried. To him? That was the meal of kings.
Some would say he reached the pinnacle of success in the cattle industry by all measurable standards. He judged nearly every well-respected national cattle show. He was at the halter for countless national champions. He led several well-respected cattle operations. But he wasn’t seeking the acknowledgement or accolades. He simply found his passion and went after it. And he brought his friends with him.
Dad was never afraid to bring along a young person with a passion for cattle. He could see that spark in someone and he gave many the chance to learn and grow with him. Just like he did with these guys and gals – he allowed me to learn from my mistakes. That’s where the greatest lessons come from.
Writing this editorial has been one of the greatest challenges I’ve ever faced. How to sum up all that my dad has done for me, in just a couple hundred words? And what will I do with that?
So, dad. Here’s what I plan to do.
I will honor your memory by sharing stories with our kids about you. I will always think of you when I two-step with my husband, Craig – because you were so light on that dancefloor, and I learned it from you.
I will always pack a jacket to any cattle show I attend. Because even at the state fair in August, you just might need it.
I will keep that stubbornness that I got so generously from you. (Sorry, Craig. You’re stuck with it.)
I will love your momma, as you did for all those years. And I will take care of her, like I promised.
If I’m going to be dumb, I’ll continue to be tough. I learned that from you, and my clumsy self repeats it often.
I will continue to chase my passions. And I will be the greatest cheerleader for our kids – your grandkids – to do the same.
And someday, when Nolan has a couple of purple banners on his wall, he will know that “Papaw” was on his crew.
You know, I just might eat a well-done steak every once in a while, because that was the only way you would eat one. And you’re the only cattleman I know (other than my brother) who does that.
On second thought, as much as I love you, I just don’t think I can stomach it. Maybe I’ll just stick to your second favorite meal, and have a Ding Dong and Mountain Dew instead.
I’ll love you forever, dad. You are oh-so missed.