Hank Bilyeu’s last story as told by his daughter
By Cherry Bilyeu
Jan 16, 2009, 15:15
As I sit here at my father's news desk, I'm thinking of what he might say if he knew this would be his last story. The first thing that comes to mind is his story would mention nothing of himself or his accomplishments. It would be about others, more specifically the people in the community of his beloved Hopewell, Prince George, and The Hopewell News reader. Getting you the story was of utmost importance to my father. Rain, snow, hurricanes, or hospitalization would not prevent my dad from getting the news to you.
Prior to the viewing at J.T. Morriss & Son Friday night, I spoke with my dad's favorite ICU nurse, Cristal Johnston. She was planning to attend the viewing as soon as her shift ended at John Randolph Hospital. She was concerned that she forgot her "Sunday go to meetin' shoes" (as my dad would say) and would have to wear her nurses shoes and didn't want to offend anyone. I told her that there would be everyone from city and county leaders to the homeless in attendance, which there were. Social standing meant nothing to my dad, as he treated everyone like they mattered, because to him they did.
My dad's passions were writing and sports. He lived his dreams daily. Although his reason for being here far transcended his passions. His reason for being here was to serve others. He gave people another chance, even though most of society thought they didn't deserve it. He worked the midnight shift three times a week at the Petersburg Salvation Army Homeless Shelter. He believed these people needed the most help and he gave it. After his return from being hospitalized this summer, my dad was still having problems bleeding and I had asked him to please stay home that night and rest. He replied "I can bleed as easily sitting in a chair here at home as I can sitting in my chair at the shelter. Baby, somebody's got to open the door and feed these men tonight". Though he won too many awards to even mention, I can truthfully say that not one of his awards were for his keen fashion sense or his style of slightly unkempt dress. Yesterday I was going through the last pair of pants he wore into the hospital. Crumpled up in his pocket was his Hopewell News business card- HANK BILYEU, SPORTS EDITOR. The other piece of scrunched up paper was a mini Sunday School lesson about how in serving others, we serve God. He did both exceedingly well. He passionately loved God, family, The Hopewell News, The Hopewell Blue Devils, the people of Hopewell, and The Prince George Royals.
At his viewing Friday, many people tearfully shared their testimonies of how Hank had sent them flowers, wrote poems, or called when they were grieving a family member's death or divorce. I also heard of his helping get kids scholarships to college. I recall a story years back about a child in Chester who had been killed. The mother had no way to buy flowers for the funeral. My father and Wyatt's Florist supplied the flowers. My father also continued to call the mother to show his support through her grief.
One day I finally figured out how my dad could always raise record breaking amounts of money for the many organizations he chaired through the years. My dad was selling various items for my baby brother Scott's football team. I had just finished grad school at the time and was penniless. My dad comes in and says "How many are you going to buy?" I never heard him say, can you buy these items. It was how MANY? In that moment I got the "HANK BILYEU SCHOOL OF FUND RAISING" lesson. I further translated it into a life lesson which I try to follow. Hank never waited until everything was perfect or it was just the right time. He got into the game as soon as there was an expressed need. He did not judge the person or situation. He just got into the game and played it to the best of his ability. Sometimes it's human nature to get wrapped up in what's not important and miss the things that are important. Pop gave from his heart, sometimes from his excess, but many times he gave when he had not much left to give. God used my dad until his last breath. Often the doctors and nurses at the hospital would remark about how kind and sweet Pop, was and even in his last days he would always ask about others. If you knew my dad well, know that I haven't had a sudden loss of consciousness due to my bereavement. My dad had many imperfections. He was known to have a temper like a Texas bull in a china shop. He had no tolerance for broken cars, computers, or office machines. He had no tolerance for slack reporting and more critically he had zero tolerance for a reporter who did not care about the people enough in this community to get what he felt was an important story. This coverage included anything from the Little Leaguer, the Drama student, the Graduate, or the feature story about someone's contribution to Hopewell/Prince George. All of you, from young to old, from rich to poor were important to him and he valued you for trying to make a difference in this community. He wanted to feature as many of you as possible. He wanted you, the people of Hopewell and Prince George, to have your moment of notoriety, your moment of importance. He celebrated that with you via his stories.
Personally, I want you to know that my dad was the funniest man I've ever known. Every time I talked to him, we laughed constantly. He was the king of puns and had a brilliant, off the cuff sense of humor. He was a math genius, a walking yellow pages, and the best bluegrass tenor that I have ever heard.
His voice was one of his greatest gifts and my brothers Gary, Guy, and Scott share in that talent. He frequently quoted many Texas euphemisms like that's "Tighter than snot on a barn door" or "I'm shakin' like a hog's ear in a high wind". He was Krum High Junior/Senior Class President and class of '51 Valedictorian. He ran the mile in track and played forward on his High School basketball team. He met a beautiful New Yorker, Anne Henderson, in the Journalism Department at North Texas State University, Denton, Texas. He married, then went to work covering sports his senior year of college at Denton Record Chronicle.
"TODAY PEOPLE" was another frequent saying of his. He especially used this as he was rounding up us kids to get to church, school, or anywhere on time. We would scurry about the house, the boys grabbing belts, shoes, socks, or shirts; me grabbing shoes and a hairbrush, running to the car as Pop would be turning around in the driveway saying "TODAY PEOPLE.” If you passed our car going down the street, you can bet that someone in there was half naked.
Yesterday, my brother found his sermon notes from a lesson he taught at church. These are some of his words I'd like to share with you. Love your Life. Love your relationships. Take the opportunities given to you. Look at your life as a glass half full. Love and serve God, and these things can be accomplished. And in true Hank fashion he would probably add "TODAY PEOPLE.”
I saw my dad happiest when driving back home to Texas. He'd get about 60 miles outside of Krum, on the back roads with the peddle to the metal, arm hanging out the window, and the wind blowing his hair. He'd start singing "Krum High's gonna shine tonight, Krum High's gonna shine". Now I imagine the angel's singing "Heaven's gonna shine tonight, Heaven's gonna shine." Now when I look up in the sky, I hear my dad saying what he used to say all the time, no matter how good or bad he was, "Baby, I'm fine the Lord's taking good care of me!"
So to you, his cherished readers of over 50 years, the people of Hopewell, Prince George, HHS Blue Devils, PG Royals, the many churches he attended and loved, I say thank you. Thank you for over 50 years of letting him serve you. Thank you for being such a precious part of his life. Thank you for taking the time to read about the essence of "Hopewell's Hank". I thank God for my dad Hank Bilyeu, a great big man with a great big heart.
Hank Bilyeu Athletic Scholarship Fund:
c/o Hopewell HS
400 S. Mesa Dr.
Hopewell, VA 23860