If you spent any time at all in Grand Falls-Windsor in the last 30-odd years, the sight of Billy Ballard with his bike and cart is a familiar one.
Famous locally for his work to keep the community clean, Ballard died peacefully Sept. 2 after a battle with pneumonia. He was 75.
“Billy was a sweetheart. Very kind-hearted,” said his youngest sister, Debbie Butler. “When I was two or three years old, he used to cut wood with Dad, and he saved his money and bought me a wooden rocking chair.”
That was not the only time Ballard went out of his way to help one of his 11 siblings. As the eldest of them, he was a constant throughout their lives. Butler said when their brother Tony went to school to be an oral surgeon, Billy worked cutting wood, saved up, and helped pay his first year of university.
“Who can say that about a brother that’s mentally challenged? Not too many people,” she said. “He had a really big heart.”
Both Shirley Mercer and Tonya Stroud – a mother and daughter who between them worked as Billy’s home-care aides for close to 20 years – can attest not only to his heart, but to his mind as well.
“He never forgot anybody,” Mercer said. “If he seen you once and met you, he would never forget you.”
Stroud would often go see Billy with her mother in the evenings, and although she would later take him on as a client herself, she would always see him as part of the family.
“I considered him as my great-uncle, I would say,” Stroud told The Central Voice. “Like family. He was one of a kind, and he will be missed.”
Dedicated as he was to collecting recyclables and cleaning up garbage, Stroud would often go with Billy to help bring bottles to the recycling plant. A sorter there named Lloyd Brake remembers Billy as “a good old soul.”
“I knew him since I was that high,” Brake said, indicating about three feet off the ground. “Everybody knew him. He got a million miles on his legs from 50 years of cleaning up.”
While Brake suspects Billy collected recyclables and cleaned up garbage for the value of the work itself and not for the accolades, he was indeed recognized with the Mayor’s Award for his efforts recently.
“He really made a huge contribution to the community through that work. Billy was a legend, really,” said Mayor Barry Manuel, who also offered condolences to the family on behalf of the municipality.
“He had what I would say is this unwavering dedication when it came to his craft. Growing up here, I would see him quite regularly, and it didn’t have to be a nice sunny day for him to be out doing what he did. It could be the dead of winter and you would see him out on his bicycle.”
After decades of going out in search of what others left behind, Billy was beloved by many and a role model for all when it came to civic pride and pitching in. In the last year or so, his health deteriorated and he was not able to be out doing his work as much, but that didn’t stop him.
“People were always bringing bottles to him. You wouldn’t believe how he lit up whenever people brought bottles,” Butler said.
“What does that tell you about this town? It tells you that Billy had a big heart and that people in this town had big hearts too.”
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Billy Ballard memorial fund through Hoskins Funeral Home. The intent is to create some kind of memorial, though as of press time, the exact details were undecided.