photographer Wilmer Everly III was born with the same number of chromosomes as any other man, but a former colleague thinks Everly was given a little something more that may explain his insatiable love of life.
"He was born with a lot of fun genes," said Frank Dougherty, a former Daily News reporter. "He really liked a good time."
Everly, 64, died suddenly at his Wilmington, Del., home on Saturday after being diagnosed with aggressive lung cancer at the beginning of May.
Following his graduation from West Catholic High School in 1961, Everly joined the Air Force as a photographer. While serving in the military in Texas, he met his wife of 44 years, Loreta.
"It was big blue eyes," Loreta said, when asked why she fell for the man who had asked her to dance.
Upon Everly's discharge from the military, the couple moved to Philadelphia, where Everly took jobs at a photography studio and the Evening Bulletin before landing a gig at the Daily News.
"There were so many people at the Daily News in those days that were legitimate iconoclasts, people who had this absolute sense of themselves and who they were," said Pete Dexter, a former Daily News columnist. "They decided on what they were going to present to the world and, by God, that's what they did. Everly was among those."
In a way, Everly was following in the footsteps of his father, Wilmer Jr., a photographer for the Inquirer. But according to those who knew Everly, he was nothing else if not his own person.
"Willy was the personification, for me, of everything that was really great about the '60s," Dougherty said. "He really liked the changing times. When we'd cover a protest . . . he was always on the side of the protesters at a time when a lot of newspaper people weren't.
"What he was covering, he was very much a part of."
Zack Stalberg, former Daily News editor, remembered Everly as an "interesting blend of tough guy and sensitive soul," someone who was moved by what he witnessed as a journalist.
"He'd go cover some ugly scene, a death or something, and he could only view it through the camera," Stalberg said. "As a photographer, he could observe this gory scene, but as a person, he had to turn away."
Pat Bernet, former Daily News executive photo editor, remembered when Everly was assigned to the photo editor's desk because "a right-hand man" was needed. Though Bernet knew Everly liked being on the streets as a photographer, Bernet said he never heard his friend and colleague complain about his new assignment.
"But he was still always ready to jump in when you needed it," Bernet said. "There was a major subway accident in town and I only had one photographer on the street at the time.
"Willy said, 'Don't say anything, I'm on the way,' " Bernet said. "He, of course, brought back Page One."
Daily News editor Michael Days said Everly was a dedicated professional.
"What Will cared a lot about was getting it right, making sure that photos were just right," Days said. "And, in the history of the Daily News' personalities, he is right up there. He's top-tier."
Daily News executive photo editor Michael Mercanti agreed that Everly belongs among the People Paper's best people.
"Will represented the real Daily News to me," Mercanti said. "Hard-driving, hard-working, yet always looking for fun."
Daily News photographer Steven M. Falk recalled that Everly got a standing ovation from the entire newsroom as he left on his final day with the paper.
The key to Everly's personal success rested in his ability to enjoy his life as much as he did his profession, his friends said.
"He was excellent at what he did but he was also smart enough to know this wasn't everything," Bernet said.
"He knew there was life when you walk out those doors."
That life included a son, Michael, now 43, who enjoyed riding motorcycles with his dad.
Loreta Everly remembered that upon their son's birth, her husband did something unusual - he hired a photographer to come to the family's house every month to document Michael's coming-of-age.
"It was a like the plumber who doesn't do plumbing," Loreta said. "We didn't keep that up. I had him do it."
Everly had other babies in his life - estimates range between 15 and 30 - but they were the kinds of babies with motors - the kinds of babies that go really fast.
"Willy had a lifelong love affair with cars. One day he'd have a Corvette, the next day an El Camino. He'd change cars as much as most people change their clothes," Bernet said.
"You would have to walk down to the parking lot to see what he was driving at any given time."
Loreta said her husband was partial to Corvettes but his motorized-vehicle obsession ranged from cars and bikes to dune buggies and boats.
"We ended up living in Maryland for 10 years just because he bought a boat," she said.
The couple was living in Upper Darby in the 1990s when Everly bought the boat. It was only after buying the watercraft that he decided he should move to Maryland to get full use out of it, Loreta said. He didn't seem to think twice about the hour commute that lay ahead of him each day to and from the Daily News.
"I don't know where his thoughts were," she said. "He just jumps into everything with both feet."
Everly also enjoyed fishing, crabbing, skeet shooting, hunting and firearms, she said.
At the time of his death, Everly was prepared to try to fight his cancer, Loreta said, and was even planning motorcycle trips with his brother, Joe, for this summer.
Now, Loreta hopes her son will be able to go on those trips in his father's stead.
"He would have wanted him to do it," she said.
Along with his wife and son, Everly is survived by brothers Joe and Patrick, and sisters Jane Ann Spencer, Roberta Everly and Cathy Felt.
He was preceded in death by his parents Wilmer Jr. and Marjorie, and a sister, Theresa Curry.
A viewing will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Chandler Funeral Home, 2506 Concord Pike (Rt. 202), Wilmington, Del., 19803. A service of remembrance will follow at 8 p.m. *