Photo of longtime volunteer Bill Auten with the staff of Parole Project

In Memoriam: Bill Auten — Parole Project Volunteer and Cherished Friend

In late January, the beginning of the Mardi Gras season that never was, Parole Project staff paid a visit to Bill Auten, or Mr. Bill as we called him, at his home.  At that time there was no vaccine, no end in sight to mask wearing and I was left with a reluctant acceptance that carnival had come to an abrupt and anticlimactic end.  The visit with Mr. Bill to enjoy some king cake and chat with him for a while was, for me, the first social call I made in months.  Such gatherings were mostly discouraged at the time, but knowing of Mr. Bill’s ongoing fight with a terminal illness lent a certain urgency to the moment.

I will never forget how unusual it looked with each of us standing around the living room trying to put as much distance between ourselves and Mr. Bill as possible while eating king cake and sneaking sips of coffee under our masks.  It didn’t really feel all that awkward though because Mr. Bill had a talent for making you feel comfortable.

Bill Autin, Quan Loi Army Base Camp Vietnam 1968

As he sat in the living room, his dog Tucker, happily snoozing on his lap, Mr. Bill talked about his experiences as a Parole Project volunteer, recalling by name the clients whose stories stayed with him. He asked after a few of them and was pleased to hear about their progress. It was obvious his work with our clients made an impact on his life as much as he impacted the lives of those he counseled.

When Bill’s wife, Barbara, informed us about his passing, it hit everyone at Parole Project pretty hard.  He was much more than a long-time volunteer for our organization, he was our friend. He provided a service to our clients that simply cannot be replicated by anyone else. His ability to parlay the trauma he experienced as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam into a useful tool for relating to our clients and the trauma in their pasts was extraordinary. His unflinching honesty and easy-going demeanor quickly built trust with others.  It was in this environment of trust that Mr. Bill could effectively help our clients with the long-lasting effects of past trauma and the challenges that often follow.  He discussed his own personal techniques for coping, recognizing stress triggers, and when clients should seek support. He encouraged them to mitigate stress through positive lifestyle choices, building healthy support systems and stress relieving techniques.

Mr. Bill would often pull up to the office a bit early, leaving a cloud of dust in the wake of his convertible sports car.  He would come inside to talk with staff about his recent adventures, like a trip he and Barbara took to Africa or to show off pictures of his favorite subject in the world, his grandchildren. 

When Mr. Bill’s health began to decline, he knew his time as a volunteer would soon come to an end.  Despite the serious health concerns, he took the time to make sure the materials he had developed would be preserved and passed on.  Mr. Bill worried over his replacement. He continued to think about the welfare of our clients during a time when one could certainly be forgiven for thinking only of themselves.

Bill Auten was, in a word, impressive. He was a hero to our country, a family-oriented man, and a valuable member of our community. Parole Project is a better organization today because of his contributions. His absence, no doubt, will be felt by countless people. 

Before we left on that afternoon back in January we set the timer on a camera and breaking the rules of social distancing and masks for a few seconds, quickly gathered around Mr. Bill and smiled as the camera captured our last moment together. I am so thankful we did that.  The power of his friendship, his work with our organization, and our obvious admiration and gratitude toward him now captured forever in a single still frame.

Thank you, Mr. Bill. You will always be missed.

Ashleigh Dowden, Special Projects Manager

Photo caption: Longtime volunteer and friend Bill Auten (seated) at his home with the staff of Parole Project; Kerry Myers, Andrew Hundley, Steve Amort, Ashleigh Dowden, Christi Cheramie, and Louis Gibson 

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