A fitting tribute to Bill Cameron

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sunset on a tractor

Nearly a decade ago, I wrote a column that focused on a special farmer I had known all my life. It brought a whole lot of compliments from people in the community, though nearly every single one said it was far too short.

The first time I saw this fellow after its publication, he seemed humbled to the point of embarrassment. The jokester was still grinning, but I had sort of thrown him for a loop.

“If you weren’t a lady, I just might have to kick you in the tail,” Bill Cameron said to me, a slight blush coming over his face. It was the first time I had seen him essentially speechless. He didn’t see why I felt compelled to write such a “flowery” column all about him.

For those of us lucky enough to be born under the same patch of sky as this good-hearted farmer, we never had to travel or pay a red cent for great entertainment. Like a fine wine, this character just kept getting better with age, and at 78 he was as funny as ever.

When the news of Bill’s passing reached those who knew and loved him, an entire community grieved this enormous loss. Complicating matters was the realization we could not attend a funeral for him due to Ohio’s mandated restrictions against gatherings of more than 10 people as a pandemic unfolds.

Keith Hall, a farmer and neighbor, came here to share his idea.

“I’m gonna invite farmers who want to follow the hearse to the cemetery on their tractors. We will keep our distance that way, but still be there as a show of respect for Bill.”

It could not have been more a more fitting tribute for a one-of-a-kind friend to all.

Bill Cameron was not only the farmer and neighbor who could be counted on, he was the bright color in the tapestry of my hometown. The best day had him in it, telling jokes that were so funny he could barely get to the punchline without tripping over his own laughter.

The conversation was lively, the jokes flowing. He and my dad shared an ornery competition over who grew the best weed-free, bug-free, straightest rows of corn. Tall tales of every sort were exchanged.

If ever a man was built to farm, it was Cameron. He loved the land and his John Deere tractors that farmed it. Offer him free tickets to anything and he would say it’s too far to go even before asking where it is. He loved his Jeromesville hometown, had lived his whole life in the same house and exemplified happiness and contentment.

His attitude was contagious. Wake up in a terrible mood, and a chance encounter with Bill could turn the day around in just a few minutes, bringing a smile and more likely a hearty belly laugh.

He was known to give a kid a nickname, and that was what he would call them the rest of their days. He made a true connection, and though always jovial and light-hearted, friendship with Bill was a special thing. His humor was matched by his kindness and generous heart.

So, when the tractors continued to arrive in Jeromesville from every direction on the day of his funeral, driven by farmers of all ages, it was the perfect way to show how much Bill meant to everyone who admired him.

Adam Cutlip led the procession on Cameron’s John Deere Gator, David Bright operated Cameron’s restored 730. Andy Hall and Keith Hall drove newer models from Bill Cameron’s collection. Following the hearse and the family procession, 72 tractors of all colors, sizes and shapes drove through the town.

The procession made the Cleveland television news, the Farm and Dairy, the front page of two local newspapers and appeared in countless posts on the internet. People who had not left home in a week turned out to line the streets, spaced safely apart in family groups, quietly paying their respects from afar.

Cameron had recently bought seed and fertilizer, and he was ready to roll as soon as the fields dried out enough to get to work. Neighbors John Cutlip and Merle Weaver will oversee the planting season on Big Rock Farms for Bill’s wife, Karen Cameron.

There were tears, plenty of tears, over this past week. But there was also laughter prompted by the happiest of memories. It is the very good ones we mourn the most. Bill Cameron was the best of us. This loss is going to hurt for a long, long time.

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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.

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