Saturday, September 16, 2006

BILLY – The Renaissance Man

When I first met Billy I think he was working at the SF Weekly. I think his dad introduced me to him, as I’m a friend of his dad and mam. Anyway Billy was very polite and respectful, as befits younger people to the older generation. And the next few times we met he was just as polite and respectful. And then one day I met him at the Irish Cultural Center, and his enthusiasm level when talking to me had increased by the power of ten. He told me that he had found out that I used to work for the Bay Guardian which seemed to excite him enormously. So we talked about how I was a founding member of the Guardian, how I knew Jean and Bruce (the publishers) before they started the paper, and what the experience of actually getting started was like. He was so interested in every detail I actually thought he was interested in starting his own newspaper! Then I told him about my experience working for Keystone Press on Fleet Street in London when I was an aspiring journalist, before I came to America, and although I never actually became a journalist it seemed like we had created a little bond. It seemed like I was of his world. After many years of knowing Billy I came to realize that this was not unusual. He had a way of making you feel unique, by his unique interest in you.

Much later when we started Wilde Irish Productions, I discovered Billy’s wide interest in the arts. (And why wouldn’t he be interested in the arts with a mother who is an accomplished artist, and a father who supports artistic endeavors, and struggling artists from the hills of San Francisco to the Native Americans of Montana, from the wilds of Mayo to the Giants Causeway in the North of Ireland and everywhere in between.) And why should I be surprised? Because not all young people whose parents bring art and enlightenment into their lives actually embrace it. Billy not only embraced it he lived it. And breathed it. And talked it. And even being Irish, I was hard put to keep up with him.

I remember specifically the night Varese invited me to join her and Billy for the production of Gogol’s Overcoat at ACT. I’m a fan of Gogol, and The Overcoat is one of my favorites of his short stories. So, I was looking for the empathy, and the heartache the author created for his hero which I didn’t find in the production. Varese and Billy and I discussed this at the intermission, and Billy was adamant that it wasn’t necessary because the production (which was excellent) did so many other things. Varese agreed with Billy. She was totally enchanted by the production. And I agreed that the show was an incredible theatrical accomplishment. But I still missed the heartache of the hero’s life and particularly at the loss of his hard-earned new overcoat. Billy vigorously defended the choices of the director, better than most theatre professionals that I know, could have done. So, by the end of the show, and our discussion afterwards over drinks, we had to agree to disagree. But, I must say that it had been a rare and invigorating discussion which I went over and over in my mind many times and for many days afterwards.

So my humble impression of Billy’s life is that it was lived to the full. And not in the common sense that that comment is made. I think that Billy fully entered into life at all levels, work, art, sports, writing, family, community, politics, and all the other things that I couldn’t possibly know about, and with all of his energy and intellect and in this way he touched so many lives that for a long, long time someone will be thinking of him somewhere. I know I certainly will.

With love and gratitude for Billy’s life,
Breda Courtney

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