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Wednesday, February 26, 2014


I first saw the advertisement about two months ago. Arguably the greatest songwriter, certainly the most prolific, of the last sixty years was to entertain in Bismarck at the Belle Mehus Theatre (“Auditorium” is not accurate or adequate to describe this icon of architectural majesty). Because it is UND Fighting Sioux hockey season, the concert was tucked away in the back of my mind for many weeks… but never dismissed.

We left Bemidji late Sunday morning, stopped for lunch in Grand Forks and for gas in Casselton. The ‘98 Honda civic is saving me more money than I ever expected, in great part from my obsession with 55 miles per hour.

We arrived at the Belle ten minutes before the concert, barely having time to park the car, purchase the tickets, and make a pit stop in the clean rest rooms at the Belle. I was beginning to pinch myself… could it be that Paul Williams was actually here in Bismarck? And how many of his great love songs would he share with us?

After finding great seats in about the eighth row on the left, a rather talkative gentleman was introduced by the master of ceremonies and explained, at length, the reason that Mr. Williams had agreed to come to Bismarck to entertain in the dead of winter. The concert, as explained on the ticket, was to benefit “Hope Manor”, the dream of Judith Roberts, its administrator, who can be reached by e-mail at (JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) , by telephone at 701-955-4993, or by snail mail to PO Box 1301, Bismarck, ND 58502.

Hope Manor is a sober living home for women in Bismarck. It is only just beginning and needs much more help from our community to fulfill its mission of providing a safe and stable environment for the nine to twelve months of sober living it takes for 75% (national statistic) of its residents to achieve long term recovery.

Paul Williams was introduced, along with his talented longtime accompanist, Chris Caswell. He began the evening with the salutation “My name is Paul and I am an alcoholic.” (Mr. Williams has been sober for the last 23 of his 73 years). “I write love songs that are basically codependent anthems.”

As we were entertained by his heartfelt renditions of the beautiful love songs he has written, he interjected his life story with a wit and sincerity that he became famous for during 48 appearances on the Johnny Carson show, six of which he claimed to remember.

Each song subtly reminded the audience of individual life experiences that evoked smiles, a few laughs, and many tears of both joy and sadness, triumph and defeat. The evening was an emotional journey back into one’s life, led by the mellow yet sweet voice of the man who has written some of the most beautiful songs ever heard.

To say it was a thrill to see Paul Williams live in concert would be the understatement of my lifetime. It was an experience I shall not soon forget. But the best was yet to come…

I stopped to chat with respected journalist and talk show personality, Dale Wetzel in the lobby of the Belle. As I spoke with Dale, he must have realized how much the concert had meant to me and asked if I would like to have a VIP pass to meet Paul Williams in the Conductors Room? I said, are you sure you have one to spare, and he said, of course. When he realized that there were two of us, he offered both VIP passes. We were stunned… it was as if the “Big Amigo” (Paul Williams’ term for God) had more in store for us! I will never be able to thank Dale enough for the kind gesture.

We were summoned to an elevator along with a couple dozen other VIPs and whisked up to our personal meet with the greatest song writer ever!

We recognized another couple we knew and, after chatting a while, found out they had graciously given a vehicle they owned to Hope Manor to help meet its transportation needs. Then Mr. Williams arrived, walking up to us after exchanging some words with Ms. Roberts and other organizers. As our friends talked with Mr. Williams and then had their photo taken with him, we waited patiently to speak with him. After offering him a check that was in the amount determined on the spot by the “Big Amigo”, he excitedly gave it to Ms. Roberts, and we subsequently had our photo taken with the greatest writer of love songs of our generation!

The only time I was ever close to being as thrilled was when we were introduced to the lead singers of Air Supply following a chance encounter in the men’s restroom of the Northern Lights Casino in Walker, Minnesota.

To those of you who missed the Paul Williams concert, all I can say is you missed the opportunity of a lifetime to be serenaded and entertained by a larger-than-life figure of a man, the diminutive and exceptionally talented crooner, Mr. Paul Williams.

Please give what you can (money, time, material, etc.) to HopeManorND, a completely private organization which accepts no government funding… so others can receive the miracle that Mr. Williams sought and received almost 24 years ago.


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