Friends of Bill

Friends of Bill

Copyright 2002, Traffic World Magazine

The television show "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" is a favorite of mine. In it Drew Carey leads improvisational comedians through skits based on audience interaction.

When I watch it I can't help but think about Bill Lavner, who held the job of publisher at Traffic World before me and, just for fun, participated in an improvisational comedy troupe in New York City.

Frequently meetings and telephone calls with Bill could turn into a comedic interplay, with Bill displaying a razor-sharp and lightning-fast wit. He had a way of gently poking fun at people, especially when I was the target and the topic was love and relationships.

Bill had held publishing sales and management positions with The New York Times, Fairchild and Cahners and spent about 10 years with Traffic World and the Journal of Commerce Group. He was hired as Traffic World advertising director in 1990. He was promoted to vice president of advertising for Traffic World in 1992 and then added the title of vice president of sales and marketing for the Journal of Commerce in 1993. In 1997 he became publisher of Traffic World and a year later added the title of vice president of new media.

Fate has a way of bending your emotions. I was saddened when I learned that the Journal of Commerce Group announced it would leave its World Trade Center offices and relocate to Newark, N.J. I was saddened when Bill left the Journal of Commerce Group.

When the attacks of Sept. 11 happened, I rejoiced that Bill wasn't in his old office on the 27th floor, overlooking the Statue of Liberty. Whenever I had visited Bill I could see on his bookshelf the helmet and flashlight that identified him as a World Trade Center fire warden, ready to lead fellow workers to safety in an emergency.

I knew Bill was a native of New York City and a longtime Greenwich Village resident with his wife Sarah and two children. I knew he loved the city and mourned for what had happened. But what I didn't know was that three months later Bill would be paralyzed and unable to work just a few weeks after his 52nd birthday.

A few months ago I got that news through the grapevine and was able to reach Bill by phone. He sounded like the old Bill, but a little hoarse and unable to talk long. "This is not a good time," he said.

I just received a letter from Richard Heitler, organizer of Friends of the Lavner Family. It said: "On Dec. 18, Bill went into Sloan Kettering to undergo surgery for a serious but operable tumor. On that December evening this devoted father, husband and respected professional, this man whose sense of humor has enhanced the lives it touched with its unique mix of the silly and the surreal, this man who as he matured seemed to grow ever more adventurous and socially engaged, became a quadriplegic, unable to move or feel any part of his body from his shoulders down.

"Today, Bill, who remains keenly alert and intellectually intact, does not have to be reduced to a life of isolation, boredom and hopelessness. Today, computer-driven, voice-activated technology exists that can bring a quality of life to both Bill and his family that would have been undreamt of just a few years ago," Heitler wrote. The Friends of the Lavner Family hope to raise $150,000 for the equipment and technology to give Bill a better life.

I owe a lot to Bill Lavner: a lot of laughs and my very job. I know there are many folks out there in the logistics and transportation industries who are his friends and also have fond memories of working with him. I hope you will let him know that by contributing to the fund. Make your check payable to the William Lavner Quality of Life Supplemental Needs Trust, and send it to Richard Heitler, 170 Avenue C, Apt. 19G, New York, N.Y., 10009.