Saturday 15 December 2018

Billy Hillis (1929 - 2017) - An appreciation of a gentleman

The late Billy Hillis
The late Billy Hillis

The late Billy Hillis, of St John's Court, Wellingtonbridge, was truly one of nature's great gentlemen. His outgoing personality and friendly disposition endeared him to all fortunate enough to have known him. A man of impeccable manners and sparkling wit, Billy treated everybody with genuine concern and respect. His sudden passing; on the night of November 18 last; constitutes an immense loss to his family, to his many friends and indeed to the entire community.

Billy was born on January 21, 1929, the third child of eight, born to devoted parents, Johnny and Cathy Hillis (née Quinn). He was predeceased by his brothers; Tom, Jim and Paddy and his sister Rita. He is survived by his two sisters Mary and Kathleen. Sadly Seán Hillis, Billy's immediate junior in the family, passed away on November 28, a mere ten days after his beloved brother.

Educated locally, at Ballymitty NS, Billy proved himself to be a highly intelligent and resourceful pupil, who was blessed with a prodigious memory. Even in his 89th year, he could readily recall rare gems of English or Gaelic poetry learnt in those halcyon days at national school.

In his spare time Billy assisted his father Johnny, on the family threshing set or at lime spreading. The experiences of a happy childhood and the intrinsic values acquired from his parents; served Billy admirably, throughout his long and productive life.

On leaving school, Billy was firstly employed as a "Telegram Boy" at Wellingtonbridge post office. In those war time years this was a most gruelling occupation, traversing the crude roads of the locality,

late and early, on a very dodgy bicycle. Yet, he remembers those days with fondness. A brief spell as a clerk in the 'General Providers', followed, before Billy secured employment, in 1945, with the prestigious Wallace Bros empire, then still in its infancy.

Like so many of his contemporaries, in 1948, Billy boarded the emigrant boat to Britain. He worked mainly in South Wales before graduating northwards to Liverpool. Being an astute and hard working man, Billy was never without work.

On a more personal note, Billy's charming personality and impish grin succeeded in capturing the precious heart of the gracious lady Josie Molloy, from Ballinamona. Billy wisely considered this to be the greatest achievement of his life. In April 1955, they were married in Clongeen church. Their marriage proved to be of the most enduring variety, over 62 years - and each passing year saw an enhancement of their unique love for each other. In 1956, the newly married couple moved to Birmingham, and set up home in the suburb of King's Heath. They were graced with five treasured children: John, Billy, Kathleen, Paul and Margaret. The family enjoyed many happy years in that loving home. For Billy and Josie family always came first. Subsequently, they were similarly devoted to their 12 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

Billy is proudly remembered, by family, as a marvellous Dad. The 'little man with the big heart' was also a wonderful grandad who was revered by his great-grandchildren as 'lovely and jolly'.

During his years in Birmingham, Billy worked all over the English Midlands. He regularly left home at 5 a.m. to collect his men in the company van, before facing a long and exhausting day's labour.

He was usually back home again around 9 p.m. Even then, the durable Billy, still had the energy and the interest to undertake some pressing repair work in the family home. Furthermore, over the years, the Hillis home was a constant source of welcome and support for emigrants from South Wexford. Many were given temporary lodgings, assurance and comfort; thereby enabling them to undertake the process of finding work with a renewed spirit. Billy's youngest sister Kathleen often recalls how magnificent Billy and Josie were to her, on her arrival in Birmingham, looking for a 'start'. The warmth of their welcome and their unfailing kindness left a lasting impression on the young lady.

In later years Billy loved to visit Kathleen and her husband John in their Tramore home, where cherished memories of yesteryear were re-lived over a convivial cuppa. As a leading member of the Wexford Association in Birmingham, Billy was deeply involved in the running of the 'Irish Centre', in St Dunstan's. On many a summer Sunday, Wexford lads and lassies would assemble there, crowding around a radio, listening to Leinster hurling classics. Many of these young people never realised their ambition to return home, eventually. Luckily, Billy and Josie did, together with most of their family.

Returning to Wexford, in 2003, they firstly resided in Grantstown Court before purchasing their present home on the outskirts of Wellingtonbridge. Even in retirement Billy continued to be a very busy man. He loved his little greenhouse, from which a regular supply of tomatoes, onions and lettuces appeared as if by magic. As a means of relaxation, he loved to visit the local hostelries, at weekends. Watching the racing or football and hurling matches appealed to him, but more importantly he enjoyed meeting the locals and exchanging yarns with them.

However, fishing was Billy's favourite pastime. Even at the advanced age of 87 years he sailed out of his beloved Bannow Bay at every available opportunity. His buddies, Stephen Carty and Francis Sinnott were of invaluable assistance in this regard, enabling Billy to board the boat, safely and comfortably. Such was the indomitable spirit of Billy Hillis. He worked and played with equal fervour and never lost his zest for life. Throughout it all, Josie remained his rock and inspiration. Undoubtedly, a match made in heaven. 'May his noble and gentle soul rest in peace.'

Sincerest sympathy is extended to his grieving wife and family, to his sisters; to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, to all his cherished relatives; to his staunch neighbours and to the countless friends, who mourn his passing.

Ar dheis láimh Dé go raibh a anam uasal!

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