I never really knew Bill Madlam in high school. All I remember about him is that he always seemed to have a broad grin on his face as he moved through the otherwise faceless hordes in the halls. I knew his name because I was on the yearbook staff and had been editor of the LANCE, our school newspaper, and therefore made it a habit to put names with faces. So I knew a lot of people at Los Altos High School who had no idea who the hell I was.
Nevertheless, it saddened me to hear of Bill’s recent passing as I am always affected when I hear about the loss of one more individual from an extraordinary graduating class. In retrospect, perhaps the times were more extraordinary than the class but there we were in 1965, all 400 of us, poised on the brink of huge social and political upheaval, the Vietnam War, the psychedelic age, the rise of civil rights, free speech, free love, and freedom in general to be who we wanted to be and go where we wanted to go.
We were down there on the sunny peninsula basking in our parents’ affluence, the warm embrace of a quaint and cozy suburban town, and the seemingly endless possibilities that lay before us. Our generation was already making enough of an imprint to be named TIME Magazine’s Man of the Year the following year as they honored those of us “25 and Under.” Yet there was an odd dynamic between those of us who could see that wild times lay ahead and those of us whose expectations were formed by television shows like Donna Reed and Leave it to Beaver.
I regret that I was so wrapped up in myself back then and so concerned about social survival that I did not reach out a little more to embrace the diversity of our classmates. To get to know someone like Bill Madlam who always seemed so friendly and upbeat in the mass of adolescent humanity that swirled around us each day. It has been my pleasure since that time to have made contact with some of these folks as adults and reconnect with our commonalities. And in some cases, celebrate the differences.
Most of us made it and we made it well. But with the passing of Bill Madlam, the LAHS Class of 65 is diminished just that much more. The optimism, the energy, the determination of a group of disparate people is affected by one less member. As aging baby boomers, we will all press on. We will still make our own way through an increasingly complex society with the grace that has carried us through these past 50 years. But I will miss Bill Madlam, and Tom Lowery, and Sally Reynolds, and Jim McGregor and all those others who will not be able to complete the journey with us. And in my own stumbling bumbling way, I will continue to carry the torch.