William S. Higgins Jr.
Family and relationships were important to Bill Higgins. This 2008 photo includes, from left, Bill, Connor Ryan, Susie Higgins, Amy Ryan holding Brynn Ryan, Marianne Rennie (in back row) and Peggy Fauver. (Submitted photo / September 22, 2012)
“He wanted to get to know people,” said only child Amy Higgins Ryan of Hampstead, Md.
“In airports, I’d bury my nose in a book. He’d get to know people, he’d know their life story,” said Susan “Susie” Higgins, Bill’s wife of 43 years.
Bill met people through work, church, volunteer activities, when out for dinner, in the neighborhood — anywhere people were. He is remembered for his sense of humor and love for teasing people.
Susie likened his sense of humor to that of Don Rickles.
“He could insult you without offending you,” she said.
The couple enjoyed eating out and had a standing date with friends for Friday night dinner since about 1986.
Bill would tease the waitresses that if they wanted the biggest gratuity ever, they should deliver his bill to the next table. In several cases, they did, presenting another opportunity for Bill to get to know people.
“When we’d go to a pizza place, he’d say we wanted burgers and fries,” Susie said. “He was always trying to get a rise out of people.”
Those who knew Bill learned to give it back to him, which added to his pleasure.
“Bill had one of the quickest wits of anyone I’ve ever known,” Susie said. “One of the things that attracted me to him was he made me laugh.”
Born in Washington, D.C., Bill and his family moved to Hagerstown when he was 6 for his father’s job with Coca-Cola. His sister, Marianne Rennie, was six years younger, but he fondly referred to her as his “older sister.”
Bill grew up on Mealey Parkway and graduated from North Hagerstown High School in 1961. He had fond memories of his childhood and high school years, Susie said.
He was one of the few boys who could dance — he taught himself by holding onto a doorknob while watching “American Bandstand” — so he was popular with the girls, his wife said.
Bill attended Shepherd College, but decided it wasn’t for him. He was interested in drafting and worked at Fort Ritchie’s Site R, then got a job with Danzer Metal Works in Halfway.
Susie, who was five years younger than Bill, was Marianne’s Big Sister through the YMCA service sorority they belonged to. Knowing both Susie and Bill were no longer in relationships with other people, Marianne told her brother to go to Red’s Twin Kiss to see Susie, which he did that night.
It was August 1966, right before Susie was headed back to West Virginia University for her sophomore year, where she was studying to be a pharmacist.
“He said, ‘When are you going to go out with me?’ I said, ‘When are you gonna ask me out?’ We went out the next day and that was it,” Susie said.
Bill asked Susie’s parents if he could drive their only child back to Morgantown, and they gave their permission.