The Team Drea Foundation received an incredibly generous donation from the Bill Gregory Memorial Fund of the Community Foundation of NW Georgia. I asked his daughter, Virginia Gregory Watts, to share some stories and lessons from her father so we could more fully appreciate the gift. Thank you Gregory family!
Andrea and I met through the club rowing team at Davidson during my freshman year. Her ebullient personality (especially at those 6am practices), meticulous organization, and what seemed to be effortless leadership made an immediate impression on me. Though I’m sure these observations come as no surprise to anyone who has met her. While I don’t remember exactly what convinced me to join the team, I can probably boil it down to one recurring theme: “My dad made me do it.” Let me explain…
Throughout my childhood, I was lucky to have the perfect balance when it came to parents. My mom surrounded me with praise and encouragement, and dad found that he got results by tapping into our shared competitive spirit and admittedly stubborn streak.
I remember games of Sorry together when I was no more than five or six. My dad showed no mercy, playing with his utmost skill, and delighting in every victory over me with a huge grin. When I learned to ride a bike, he assured me he would hold on to the back of the seat to steady me. I began to pedal timidly only to look back minutes later and realize he had let go as soon as I got going. I was furious until I realized I was riding on my own. The day I got my learner’s permit, my mom took me cruising in the safety of the empty church parking lot. After work that evening, my dad then let me drive 70mph on I-75. I’m sure I complained to my mom on occasion when I got frustrated with his egging on, but the truth is that I loved just about every minute of it. Whether it be report card grades or blue ribbons at horse shows, he never failed to challenge and inspire me to one-up him and push my limits. Since we lived in the same town where he had grown up, there was an entire community of people who remembered little Bill Gregory, attesting to his childhood accomplishments and trusting him as a bright, compassionate doctor.
This push for me to think big and take chances continued through high school, college and my adult life in New York City. Inevitably I would first tell him he was crazy, ponder his advice for a bit, realize he was right, and then ultimately do what he said. In the meantime he would repeat and expound upon said advice on a daily or sometimes hourly basis until I finally came around. I may have drawn the line when he began brainstorming ideas for how I should go about dating in New York City, but his constant urging never steered me wrong.
In June of 2006, my dad, an avid cyclist, died at 51 in a collision with a truck. Cycling was the latest pastime that he had become passionate about as it combined his love of the outdoors, friends, and exercise. Receiving that call from my mother when I was hundreds of miles away in New York was the worst moment of my life.
The months that followed were not much easier, but the way in which my mom, sister and I banded together to survive such a devastating loss has made us all stronger both individually and as a family. I will never forget how tough my mother was and has been in the days, months and years after his death, always there for us even through her own grief.
Today, I still approach choices by imagining what my dad would tell me to do, embracing his ability to live life to the fullest. Ask anyone about the last conversation they remember having with my dad. I can almost guarantee that it probably began with him asking “Whatcha know good?” in his Southern twang, insinuating that there must be something in life worth being excited about at all times. Seeing the positive and potential in every situation even in the midst of adversity isn’t that easy for some of us, but for my father and Andrea it seems to come naturally.
One positive thing that has come from my father’s death is a foundation that was created in his honor by an incredibly generous family friend. The Bill Gregory Fund continues my dad’s mission of promoting health and fighting the diseases that he combated on a daily basis as a physician. After learning about Andrea’s diagnosis, I was amazed but not surprised by her immediate reaction to fight ALS, not only within her own body but by starting Team Drea. If my dad knew about what Andrea has created and achieved in the last few years, he would be sharing her story with anyone who would listen. Then he’d ask her a million questions about her awesome bike and want to swap stories of recent rides. Above all, he would be thrilled that his legacy made this donation possible.