Snap, crackle—those are the words that always come to mind when I think of Paul Willging. It was no exception this week when I learned of his death from a long-running bout with cancer.
Everyone in long-term care knew Paul Willging as the 16-year President/CEO of the American Health Care Association in the 1980s and ’90s and, later, of the Assisted Living Federation of America. He was in his last few years in his tenure at AHCA when I signed on as editor of this publication, then known as Nursing Homes Magazine. I appreciated his wit and clarity in advocating AHCA’s position on many national issues, most especially his jousts with the tough and uncompromising healthcare consumerist Elma Holder, head of the National Citizens’ Coalition for Nursing Home Reform. They stated their cases with great vigor, yet never disrespectfully. Until he ran afoul of some AHCA leaders for “allowing” the Medicare Prospective Payment System to be passed—they had supported the PPS but not the regulatory nightmare they got eventually (and, as I recall, Willging warned them about)—Willging was the model of the effective, engaging lobbyist.
Which is why, shortly after his relatively brief tenure at ALFA, I leapt at the chance to enlist him as a regular columnist for Nursing Homes. His stature was such that the column needed only couple his name—Paul Willging—with the explanatory verb “Says” to have its title. “Paul Willging Says…” resulted in nearly 40 spirited columns ranging over a variety of long-term care topics. Paul indeed had something to say, and that snap and crackle was evident every time. And, from my professional standpoint, I must say he was one of the easiest edits I ever had. His writing needed only the slightest touches; his native eloquence carried the day.
I lost touch with Paul as he carried on his career as an academic at The Johns Hopkins University. But my collaboration with him was one facet of my career at Nursing Homes, now Long-Term Living, that I miss very much. Writing aside, our conversations were not only educational for me, but fun. Paul snapped, he crackled—and that’s how I’ll always remember him.