Those who knew Billy Stevens were glad they did 

  • Billy Stevens will be honored Sunday at the Odd Fellows Lounge in Contoocook. Courtesy

  • Billy Stevens is remembered , who died last month from cancer, was fixture in the Hopkinton area – at the town’s fair, the local pancake breakfast, and any place that served donuts. He’ll be honored on Sunday at 10 a.m. at the Odd Fellows Lounge in Contoocook. Courtesy

  • Billy Stevens, shown in his younger days, loved working on the farm. He served as chaplain at the Grange Hall and he was a big fan of his town’s state fair. Courtesy

  • Billy Stevens, who died last month from cancer, was fixture in the Hopkinton area – at the town’s fair, the local pancake breakfast, and any place that served donuts. He’ll be honored on Sunday at 10 a.m. at the Odd Fellows Lounge in Contoocook. —Courtesy

Monitor columnist
Published: 12/5/2019 7:05:26 PM
Modified: 12/5/2019 7:05:15 PM

To those who poked fun at Billy Stevens through the years, this is your chance at redemption.

The fixture in the Hopkinton area – at the town’s fair, the local pancake breakfast, any place that served donuts – died last month from cancer at the age of 69, and he’ll be honored on Sunday at 10 a.m. at the Odd Fellows Lounge in Contoocook.

Sue Lawless made sure of that. She wrote the obituary for Billy. Chances are no one else would have shouldered that burden. She coordinated the tribute, an event that never would have gotten off the ground without her effort.

She’s serving as Billy’s post-life agent, bringing attention to his refreshing innocence, his constant smile, his never-ending optimism.

Part of this story, however, is the stuff that reflected all the bad things that someone like Billy endures in school. His lack of an interior filter, which meant lots of off-color comments from an individual who simply didn’t know any better. His weight. His upbringing by a mysterious father who the locals say added to his son’s problems. His poor hygiene. The sharp digs from classmates before he graduated from Hopkinton High School in 1969.

“He had no guile, no bitterness,” Lawless told me. “He was not bogged down by those qualities. Everyone knew he was harmless. An outside person might want to keep their kids away from him, but I always trusted him.”

Billy was never diagnosed with an emotional or intellectual disorder because Billy was never diagnosed, period. But sources I spoke to knew something was off, and they wondered if perhaps his father had something to do with Billy’s peculiar behavior.

His parents are long gone. His father was born in the 19th century, a relatively old man by the time his wife gave birth to their only child. What went on inside their Contoocook home, some say, might have stuck with Billy until the day he died.

“I imagine from talking to people and from what Billy described that his upbringing wasn’t the best,” said Tim Goodwin, who graduated high school with Billy before settling in Chichester with his wife, Faith Duclos. “I don’t think he was allowed to do much outside the home.”

Goodwin witnessed Billy’s days in the playground, saying he was never bullied to the point of a punch or a push to the ground. There was other stuff, though. Stuff that led to loneliness.

“He was more left out than bullied,” Goodwin said. “He was picked on, but no one pushed him around or beat him up. But he was teased a lot.”

Duclos grew up in that time and area, too. She recalls seeing a boy, no older than 6, on his first day of grade school, setting the tone for what lay around the corner.

“It was the old schoolhouse with four rooms,” Duclos told me. “He was out there crying, ‘I want my mama.’ I don’t think he had been out much by then. He never gained any (social skills).”

He lived in an old house on Kearsarge Avenue his whole life. Even after his father, Harold, died in the 1970s and his mother, Cora, passed in ‘83. That left Billy alone in his house, and it pushed Duclos to invite him to her home during the holidays.

And remember, this man had no filter. Duclos, meanwhile, had young kids.

“It was educational for my children,” Duclos said. “His mouth, his language left a lot to be desired and we had to tone him down periodically. My kids learned what not to say.”

It was easy by those who never gave Billy a chance to view him through a narrow prism. Easy to pass him off as someone who wasn’t real smart, and who had nothing to offer his community.

They were wrong. He served as chaplain at the Grange Hall. He worked on a local farm. And Billy read and read and read some more. World War II and the Civil War were his favorite subjects.

“Some called him a savant,” Lawless said. “He was skilled in history, and he’d remember detail after detail, addresses, phone numbers, a directory of days gone by.”

Gerry Courser, who now lives in Warner, lived near Billy in the old days and told me, “He was a very smart man. He recalled facts and figures. He got a hold of my yearbook and told me my birthday and everything.”

His outgoing nature and smarts were on display each year at the Hopkinton Fair. Walking distance for Billy, the fair created a home base of sorts, a place he loved, felt comfortable at. There was food and there were people. That’s all he needed.

Billy loved the fair as a kid, loved it as an adult, loved it his entire life. In his later years, he’d lean on a cane to move around. He’d get there early on that first day and he’d stay late. He’d eat at Nelson’s Fudge stand.

“An interesting character, to say the least,” noted Chris Boudette, a firefighter in Contoocook who runs his own construction business. “At the Hopkinton Fair, everyone knew who he was and that was a staple for his life. If he saw anyone he recognized, he would stop and talk to them.”

Elsewhere, Billy never missed a pancake breakfast at the Odd Fellows Home. Merchants made extra donuts, knowing full well that Billy would come by.

Estimates varied, but Billy weighed more than 300 pounds. He might have weighed 400, and this did little to help usher him through school and life.

No longer able to care for himself once he reached his early 60s, Billy moved to the Austin Home in Webster, an assisted-living facility, in 2013. Lawless asked the community to send him Christmas gifts there, and Boudette was always the first to give.

Billy remained in Austin Home for six years, until he had trouble breathing and felt tired. He went to the doctor and learned cancer had attacked his liver, pancreas and kidney. At the time, Billy thought chemo would prolong his life.

Once he found out his time was short, Billy said something like, “The good Lord is going to take me before I’m ready,” said Lawless, who spent time with Billy at the hospital.

“He was under the impression they would fix him up, and he had no clue he would die,” Lawless said. “He let go at that point.”

He stopped eating the chocolate and cookies that had been brought to his room. He died on Nov. 17, about a week after the diagnosis.

Those who knew Billy best enjoyed his child-like nature. Others never took the time to meet and greet him, a number that dwindled once Billy got older and the community matured with respect to his unique personality.

Lawless said she expects about 40 people to show up on Sunday, based on the response that followed her posting of his death on Facebook.

There’s room for more. There’s room for redemption.

For everyone.

“I don’t want him to fade into obscurity,” Lawless said. “I wish I had said something more meaningful to him. I missed that chance, and I wanted him to know he meant a lot to me.”


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