The final days were the hardest.
Phoenix senior tennis standout Wil Cochrane sat next to William Martin at the hospital during his pal's last stand.
Martin, aka Uncle Bill, mostly slept, which was odd to see. Usually, he brandished a dry wit and a curmudgeon attitude (which didn't fool anyone who knew him), but esophageal cancer drained him.
Seeing a weak Uncle Bill was like seeing defeated superhero. It doesn't seem possible until it happens.
Martin, born Nov. 27, 1939, passed away Feb. 23, 2012.
The close family friend's departure was like a punch in the gut to the hard-hitting 17-year-old Cochrane, who was named after William.
"It was hard for Wil to deal with," says Andy Cochrane, Wil's dad. "Especially toward the end when he was so sick."
Even before Martin's passing, Wil had decided to create a tennis tournament focused on raising cancer awareness for his senior project. The plan was for Martin — whom Wil called Uncle Bill — to attend and be honored as a survivor, but those plans changed. Cochrane faced a future that included only memories of the man.
Replacing his sadness with inspiration, the Portland State University signee has continued his work in creating the Uncle Bill's Cancer Awareness Tournament, which will take place May 12 at Rogue Valley Swim & Tennis Club.
The proceeds will benefit the American Cancer Society.
The doubles tournament will include men's, women's and mixed groupings.
Those interested can pick up sign-up forms beginning today at Rogue Valley Swim & Tennis Club, Ashland Tennis & Fitness Club and Rogue Valley Country Club. The cost is $40 per doubles team.
Cochrane, last year's Class 4A/3A/2A/1A state runner-up, has stayed plenty busy preparing. Already, his efforts have helped to raise $2,000.
"Making the draws, organizing the schedule so that it runs smoothly, having enough tennis balls, getting the word out," Cochrane says, noting just a few of his tasks.
And all the while, he's been thinking about Uncle Bill.
Wil and Andy both cherished Martin, who was an avid local fisherman with a knowledge of industrial and commercial heating equipment that was second to none.
Martin learned his lifetime trade as a boilermaker while on active duty in the Navy from 1959 to 1963.
Over the years, he grew a reputation for his willingness to offer a helping hand. Martin sometimes came across as a little grumpy, but there was almost always a joke or laugh that accompanied any grumbling.
"He wasn't afraid to say what was on his mind," says Wil, who grew up around Bill. "But behind the hard shell and humor there was a very sweet guy who loved and took care of his family."
Andy met Martin for the first time at a restaurant in Ashland in the early 1980s. When Martin saw the younger Andy, he called him a hippie and told him to get a haircut.
"That first encounter didn't go so well," Andy says.
But then Andy — who had lost his father when he was very young and a brother when he was a teenager — got to know Martin.
"He was a brother, a dad and a friend to me," Andy says. "He was just one of those guys that always did the right thing and always wanted the people around him to do the right thing."
Wil says he hopes Uncle Bill is proud.
Andy sure is.
"I think it's awesome," Andy says. "I get tears in my eyes thinking about how proud I am of him."
To sponsor the tournament or for more information, contact Wil Cochrane at 541-944-0631, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.