A WINK AND A SMILE...those are the words now used to describe Jace Bryant Lillis. One month past his 21st birthday, while riding his Harley, a drunk driver turned in front of him. On July 23rd, 2003, at about 9:55 p.m., after picking up his girlfriend, Lindsay Saathoff, from her softball game, a drunk man chose to get behind the wheel of his truck and Jace is now gone, forever, from our lives. Lindsay survived the crash with broken bones, and a broken heart.
Jace and Lindsay were rendered aid at the scene by a passerby, who happened to be an EMT. They were taken to Riverside Hospital in Kankakee, Illinois. After stabilization, Jace was airlifted to Loyola University Medical Center, in Maywood Illinois. He was on life-support for three days following the crash. Everything that could be done was done, but there was no hope for a meaningful recovery of any kind, due to his brain injury. After all of Jace's friends and family gathered at his bedside for the next three days to say their goodbyes, life support was withdrawn. We lost Jace 32 minutes later on July 26th, 2003. Jace's wish was to be an organ donor. He always insisted on helping others…and we were able to fulfill that last wish for him, through the "Gift of Hope".
Jace grew up in a rather small town, Bourbonnais, Illinois, and had lived here all his life. It's one of those places where everybody knows everybody. Jace had graduated from Kankakee Community College in May, and one month before his death, had started working for Enterprise Rental. He was going to go places. He loved life, but especially his friends and family, of which he had many. He was very active in getting his high school "Communications Department" up and running. His Communications teacher spoke about Jace at his funeral, and her eulogy well sums up the kind of person our son was.
Lana Weiss Brown, Communications Teacher...
Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School:
"LIVE WITH LILLIS"
When he walked into my classroom for the first time, he winked. Little did I know at that moment, that I was about to meet one of the most outstanding students of my 30-year career in public education. Much can be said about Jace Lillis. Bright. Talented. Great pipes. Good writer. Funny. Compassionate. Positive. Spiritual. Driven. Creative. Kind. Gentle. Exuberant. But, he was more than just adjectives- he was the VERB in any sentence- when he walked into a room, he made it better, brighter, bigger.
His role as Station Manager of our 2-year Communications program, at Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School, included managing the Radio and Television Stations. He also anchored a morning show and had his own radio program. Both on microphone and off- he was a natural. I was so convinced that he would be taking Jay Leno's place, I saved his first show in case they needed it for a montage at the Emmys. His excitement for Communications equaled his talent, and both were off the charts.
His modus operandi was a leadership style, which elevated the success of others, cultivated the talents of his peers, and captivated the audiences, while giving the concept of "teamwork"- high definition color. I remember asking him one day- "What made you so considerate of others, so honest, so generous with your encouragement?" Simply, he said, "It's the way I was raised." While looking at, what I consider to be, one of the world's most powerful reasons to go into teaching…I could not help but note the amazing grace of raising a kid with all the "right stuff."
Teenagers are my business. Sometimes, they wear their homes on their sleeves. Sometimes, their relationship with their families is transparent, shining through- like mica in a sidewalk. In Jace Lillis- his family illuminated his way, as he not only spoke of his parents on a daily basis- but he lived like them- by his own design.
He told me that he was the luckiest guy in the world, because he has the BEST PARENTS a guy could ever have- and he does. His brother, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors, friends, and dear girlfriend share in his ability to make lemonade out of lemons, smile in the face of tragedy, and make integrity a by-law for every choice and challenge.
And speaking of challenges, broadcast journalism is not easy work. In fact, the standards are high- even at the high school level- even for the very gifted- like Jace. Whether it was his famous "Good Morning BBCHS", or his Paul Harvey version of the school lunch menu "Cold Milk", he was as good as it gets. It all began with his first show ever called "Live with Lillis".
Funny, how the first word can be said in 2 different ways. In broadcasting, going LIVE means; blaze the trail- do it right the first time. To a broadcaster, it's high risk- high return. Even the most seasoned veterans carry a sense of awe about going LIVE- because it is so real, so unpretentious, so genuine.
For Jace Lillis-going LIVE is what he did for a living- and in so doing, he inspired the rest of us to blaze the trail….do it right the first time, and go for "real"..."unpretentious"..."genuine".
Then, the other way to say the word- LIVE. Living with Lillis is what we have all done- in one way or another- and because we have, we are enriched by his unsinkable, unflappable, unbelievable love of life- and we are all better, brighter, and bigger because of him.
Here's to Live with Lillis- always- from your teacher, who will always live with Lillis in her heart and who thanks you for all of the lessons you taught me about going live. And to think- it all began with a wink.
Show 'em your stuff, Jace Lillis.
We, the Lillis family and Lindsay, have many people to thank for helping us get through this horrible time in our life. We especially thank AAIM for being there and helping us in so many ways.
We love and miss Jace more than words can express…and we always will, but we want people to remember him for his WINK AND A SMILE, and continue to celebrate his LIFE. He'd like that!
Thad and Lisa Lillis (mom and dad), brother Ryan, Lindsay, and all of Jace's family and friends