Granville “Hank” Bilyeu began his journalism career at The Hopewell News more than 40 years ago while still serving in the military at Fort Lee.
Throughout his time there, Bilyeu served as reporter, sports editor, news editor, and managing editor and filled in every vacant slot when needed.
He died Tuesday at the age of 75, at John Randolph Medical Center.
Mr. Bilyeu got his nickname Hank from his blue grass singing days in Krum, Texas (which according to him, you have to put your hand over your heart when you say the town’s name.)
He came to Hopewell while serving in the Army. The first night living in the area, Bilyeu said neighbors supplied food and other needs while his family waited for their household goods. He said he knew then that Hopewell was the town for him and after leaving the service at Fort Lee, Bilyeu worked at The Hopewell News and then Allied Chemical for a few years. Ever since, he has continued to give back to his neighbors.
He left Allied to continue work in the field he loved – the newspaper business.
Mr. Bilyeu dedicated his life to journalism and the community in which he worked and lived.
Arriving to the office at 4 a.m. and leaving after dark at times, the Krum, Texas native believed in highlighting members of the community, whom may otherwise not have received recognition.
He wrote about the common man, the volunteer and the sports hero.
Although Bilyeu wasn't a Hopewell native, he bled blue and gold for his beloved home team. And when the Prince George Royals played, Bilyeu rooted for them with all of his heart as well.
He supported the players through his writing and other ways including sending flowers to the girls’ teams when they played a good game, or buying dinner for the guys.
He tried to never miss a game or meet whether it was track, wrestling, basketball, girl’s softball or football.
He even went to a game after having minor eye surgery wearing prescription shades nearly as large as his face.
“There were definitely times Hank was reporting at a game when I thought he should have stayed at home or not covered that game, but that was his attitude,” former Hopewell basketball coach and athletic director Bill Littlepage said. “He had the mind set that as long as he could go he was going to make an effort to do it. Covering the sports and The Hopewell News meant so much to him. There were times I knew he was feeling bad but somehow deep down I think that made him feel even better… to write about the Blue Devils.”
The father of four suffered with poor health for many years, but he never let it dampen his spirits or his work ethic.
At times in the hospital, Bilyeu would play the radio to hear the local games to draft notes for newspaper articles. From his hospital bed, Bilyeu would call coaches to get game plans and quotes. He would write out stories on paper and have a fellow staff member pick them up before deadline.
Though he did not work for credit, the Army veteran was awarded for his efforts.
He earned the Virginia High School Coaches Association Marshall Johnson Sports award in 2003, an honor normally reserved for athletes. Johnson personally presented the award to Bilyeu whose sportsmanship showed in his heart and in his writing.
The Virginia Press Association presented him with numerous awards throughout his newspaper career. He earned first place in news, feature and sports writing, as well as top honor for special sections and design and layout.
While serving as sports editor, The Hopewell News earned first place two years in a row for its Reflections section because of his efforts.
At a planning meeting for the 2000 Reflections, a six-week in-depth special project, the then publisher suggested an article be written about The Hopewell News because it would be celebrating its 80th year in print. The design editor responded, “I thought The Hopewell News was Hank Bilyeu with walls built around him.” That statement proved his dedication was admired by staff members, his bosses, and most importantly to Hank, the readers.
Also Bilyeu was inducted into The Hopewell High School Wall of Fame in 2006. During his induction, Bilyeu was the only honoree who had not been a former Blue Devil.
“Hank had given to the high school for about five decades and was more than deserving to be included into the wall of fame,” Littlepage, who met the sports writer in the early 1960s, said. “His contributions to the athletic program with coverage and excellent writing go unmeasured. He had a fine rapport with all of the coaches and players. He did more than what it takes to earn his place on that wall.”
For his sports writing, Bilyeu also received the Jack Fulp award.
Recently Prince George High School honored Bilyeu for exceptional news writing for his “outstanding coverage of the girls basketball.”
He was not only honored for his work, but for his community involvement and volunteer work.
Mr. Bilyeu was the first person to receive the Hopewell-Prince George Chamber of Commerce Community Member of the Year award. In 2000, the organization created the award to honor those who not only worked hard in the area, but who gave back to the community.
“Hank would give you the shirt off of his back,” former co-worker Hilda Burke said. “He would do anything for anyone. I remember him answering phone calls that someone had a house fire and Hank would just say, ‘Come by I’ll write you a check.’ He would do without to give to others.”
The proud grandfather never owned a television, though he won several at drawings at different functions. Mr. Bilyeu just gave them to someone he thought was in need.
At times in the hospital, his health was not at the forefront, but his concern for others stood out. Even once he removed an oxygen mask to ask a visitor how his family was doing. “He cared about your family and others more than himself,” News photographer Jeff Rose noted.
“He was such a gracious person, was always there and would often call me to offer assistance to anybody who may need a pair of shoes or anything of that nature,” Littlepage recalled. “Hank was definitely for the youth.”
Mr. Bilyeu also supported the teachers sending flowers to Carter G. Woodson for educators the first day of school.
He volunteered with the Hopewell Emergency Crew serving on the board of directors, visited veterans at the VA, and tutored youngsters in Math and other subjects and helped with the Optimist Club mission.
He recently worked with the Salvation Army’s Men’s Shelter in Petersburg. Though his health made it challenging, Bilyeu would travel to the shelter daily to help others in need. He was even involved with the shelter when it was part of CARES more than 10 years ago, the current director explained. Also, the Prince George County resident was co-founder of a children’s’ home The Pilot House in Hopewell.
Bilyeu was very involved with The First Congregation Christian Church, attending service and teaching Sunday school, and served as Deacon and Elder at area churches. He even became an ordained minister. Despite his religious beliefs, Bilyeu would ramble off an occasional cuss word mostly directed at his computer at work. His idea of fixing the system was pounding the keyboard up against the desk. But miraculously it often worked.
His other tried and true method of fixing things was, “brown paper and vinegar,” an old saying Hank often used. If you had a cold, that was “Doctor” Bilyeu’s recommendation, the cure all “brown paper and vinegar.” That was just one of many of his old favorite country sayings.
Throughout his life, Hank Bilyeu worked hard to serve God and others.
“He was a friend to everyone, and everyone I have ever known had total respect for Hank. He was a wonderful human being,” Littlepage added. “His death is a tremendous loss.
“Hank is an Icon in the city, and his name is synonymous with local sports coverage,” he added. “His shoes may be filled, but Hank will never be replaced.”
Bilyeu’s goal through journalism was to get as many names in the paper as possible to recognize the little guy.
He would always say, “Most people get their name in the paper when they are born and when they die. I would like to see more of them get in the paper sometime in between.”
And with that goal, he succeeded.
Mr. Bilyeu is survived by the mother of his children Anne Bilyeu, daughter Cherry Bilyeu-Buhl (husband Norman Buhl and son Nicholas Buhl), son Guy Bilyeu (wife Eileen) son Gary (wife Jill Bilyeu and children Kirby and Cady) and son Scott Bilyeu.
A service will be held Saturday at 11 a.m. at First Baptist Church and the family will receive friends at JT Morriss in Hopewell Friday from 7 to 8:30 p.m.
In lieu of flowers memorial donations may be made to the Hank Bilyeu Athletic Scholarship fund through the Hopewell High School.