At the end of last week, former WVU basketball assistant Billy Hahn passed away following a massive heart attack. It was a shock to many because of his boundless energy from his days as a Maryland point guard to coaching stints that weaved from the former Morris Harvey in Charleston to Davidson, Rhode Island, Ohio, Maryland, La Salle and, ultimately West Virginia with Bob Huggins.
It’s impossible to describe Billy because he was truly indescribable. Brash? Check. An appearance worthy of a “Godfather” movie part? Check. Enthusiastic? Check. Good heart? Check. Ready to argue at the drop of a hat? Check. Ready to cry at the drop of a hat? Check. And, mostly, loyal? Check. Check. Check.
On Monday night, Kathi Hahn, Billy’s wife, posted the below on Facebook:
Married to Billy Hahn for 47 years, I thought I knew everything about that Indiana farm boy. I WAS WRONG!! Thanks to all of the condolences that shared stories about your relationships with him. It is obvious how much he truly cared about every one of you. He was a teacher, a mentor, a loyal friend……he saw abilities in some of you that you didn’t see in yourselves. He would call you just to make sure everything was ok. He’d tell you “Great day to be alive, count your blessings” and he meant it!
His light and happiness could make anyone feel better.
Following his wishes (which he was very specific about), there will be no viewing or funeral processions…NO CRYING!
To honor him I am asking each and every one of you at 7pm on Saturday April 15th to raise your glass toward heaven and say “ YO DAWG.” Then simply stop and look around you….tell a joke….make someone smile…..better yet, make them laugh…..hug someone…..but most importantly let them know that they are special.
I’ve always believed “that there are angels among us.” Now, I’m sure, cause I was married to one.
Please feel free to share this with all his friends in CELEBRATION of a life WELL LIVED! We’d love to see any pictures. Thanks!
I took a snapshot of Kathi’s post and shared it on Twitter. The responses from Billy’s friends were amazing. Former Villanova national championship coach Jay Wright retweeted the post. Same with The Athletic senior writer Dana O’Neil. And Providence coach Kim English. And Boston University coach Joe Jones. And ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla.
On and on it went.
Kathi’s ask is a wonderful way – scratch that, it’s the perfect way – to send Billy off. But before we do, I wanted to share a column I wrote for the Feb. 13, 2017, edition of the Charleston Gazette-Mail. I think it helps paint a true picture of Billy, Kathi and the Hahn family. One many never saw.
Please take a few minutes. I hope you’ll be glad you did:
Today is Valentine’s Day.
Yet to Billy Hahn, assistant to WVU basketball coach Bob Huggins, yesterday was too. As will be tomorrow.
And last Wednesday was most certainly Valentine’s Day.
“My daughter Ashley called it my wife Kathi’s eighth birthday,” Hahn said. “It was eight years ago my wife had a bone marrow transplant.”
To say Kathi Hahn’s life has been filled with obstacles would be a vast understatement. In 2007, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She underwent two surgeries and chemotherapy.
Thankfully, the treatment was successful, but, while in South Carolina celebrating the remission, a lump was found on her neck. It was determined she had leukemia.
“Treatment for ovarian cancer can increase your risk of getting leukemia,” Hahn said. “Usually, though, it takes a couple years to get it. My wife was an overachiever. She had it in three months. They couldn’t believe it.”
It meant more chemotherapy. Yet Kathi also needed a bone marrow transplant. The doctors at Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown searched and finally placed her on the International Bone Marrow Registry.
Against the odds, Hahn hit the jackpot in Doris Be, a donor located in Germany. The transplant took. And this coming May, the donor and recipient are planning to celebrate.
“Doris and her daughter are tying in a visit to our house with a trip to the United States,” Billy Hahn said. “It will be the first time her and Kathi have really met. They’ve communicated through email and the daughter translates because the woman doesn’t speak English. We’re very excited. Can’t wait for that to happen.”
It will be another chapter in an extraordinary story.
“It’s crazy,” said the Mountaineer assistant. “My daughter Ashley [Calvery] even wrote a book about it. It’s a miracle my wife is living. And had we not lived in Morgantown, West Virginia, I sincerely believe my wife’s story would not be like it is right now.”
Hahn’s voice cracks when telling the story.
“We had such unbelievable, tremendous care from Dr. Michael Craig here [in Morgantown],” he said. “He was the miracle worker. He saved my wife’s life. Ruby Hospital and WVU’s [Mary Babb Randolph] Cancer Center saved my wife’s life, I’m just telling you right now. It’s an amazing story.”
As mentioned, Ashley, the daughter, wrote a book titled, “My Mom The Miracle: 1 Woman, 2 Cancers, 3 Years, 4-Ever Grateful.” It even caught the attention of Hoda Kotb, who was raised in Morgantown, and shared via the Today Show in 2014 with Kathie Lee Gifford.
Behind the scenes, though, is what touches the heart.
“We had a prayer network set up by Bob Bodell, a former teammate of mine at Maryland,” Hahn said. “When he found out Kathi had ovarian cancer and leukemia, he and my daughter got it going across the country. My daughter would constantly update it.
“And you know what? All the prayers were answered.”
There were, of course, tough times. Yet the Hahns found ways to navigate through those and to a wondrous moment.
“Ashley was supposed to get married the year Kathi was diagnosed with leukemia,” said Huggins’ assistant. “Well, Ashley gave up her job as a kindergarten teacher in Maryland to live with us through the process. She put up a sign in Kathi’s room that was our mantra every day. It said, ‘I’m going to dance at my daughter’s wedding.’
“Well, the wedding was postponed for a year in hopes Kathi would make it. That sign stayed in the hospital room numerous, numerous nights.”
His voice again broke.
“But she danced at the wedding,” he finally said. “We danced. We cried. The whole wedding party did. It was a very emotional night. An amazing night.”
It was quite a night in quite a story. And today, Valentine’s Day, is another opportunity to celebrate.
“We’re going to celebrate like we always do,” Billy Hahn said. “But every day now has a greater meaning. Every day has more significance after going through something like that. You have a greater appreciation. You don’t take anything for granted.
“I say all the time it’s a great day to be alive. Count your blessings.”
On Valentine’s Day. And every day.
So on Saturday, I hope you join me. I’ll have a whisper – Billy’s word for a shot of Crown – and raise a glass. He’ll never be forgotten by those who knew him.
But our “Dawg” will surely be missed.
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Mitch Vingle covered sports in West Virginia for 38 years. Follow Mitch on Twitter at @MitchVingle and be sure to check out the rest of Wheelhouse Creative’s website for your marketing and advertising needs. If interested, call us at 304-905-6005.