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Crossing paths with a legend

If your path in life never crossed that of Rev. Billy Presley, you missed out on perhaps the greatest treat ever.

He was a man who loved God and shouted that message from each and every pulpit he stood. Equally as important, he was a man that loved his family, loved his friends, and loved life in general.

My path first crossed Billy’s way back in the early 1990’s. I was covering a Hertford County High School baseball game where Billy was the homeplate umpire. The HCHS coach at that time had a short fuse and was well-known for his profanity-laced tirades. The coach stormed out of the dugout to voice his displeasure over a call Billy had made and proceeded to use multiple curse words.

Billy informed the coach that he was a Baptist minister and did not care for that type of language. But the coach kept it up and quickly found himself tossed out of the game.

As the Sports Editor of this newspaper back then, I was covering a lot of high school athletic events where Billy was serving as an official, to include basketball, softball, and volleyball. He and I became friends at that point.

About five or so years ago, I was covering the Gates County Rodeo when Billy walked up and pitched an idea. Seems as he had suffered some medical issues that affected his memory. His doctor had suggested he write things down in an effort to improve it. Thusly, Presley’s Ponderings – a weekly column that published in the Gates County Index – was born.

I figured he would use his weekly writings to spread God’s word. He did exactly that in-between the lines. His columns were more about lifestyles and love for his family and fellow man, but what he shared was God’s love through his own eyes.

Those who had the good fortune to read Billy’s weekly offerings learned about his other passions in life – fishing, coon hunting, and keeping our environment green and clean.

He told tales of his fishing trips and the many nights he and his buddies spent in the woods, listening to a dog chasing and treeing a coon. Billy was apparently very good at fishing and hunting….he always came home with an abundance of both creatures.

Over one stretch of several columns he got on an anti-littering campaign, telling us of his near-daily routine of walking along Rooks Road in Gates County to pick-up garbage.

We also learned, through his words, of his annual trips back home to his native Booneville, Mississippi. We learned that he came from a poor family, but yet the lessons learned from those lean times proved more valuable than all the gold in Fort Knox. It led him to a life of service in God’s Army, one where he didn’t know any enemy.

And he wasn’t shy when it came to wearing his heart on his sleeve for his family. I remember talking to him when the life of his precious great-granddaughter, Presley, hung in the balance. She was born pre-mature and Billy’s voice was filled with emotion when we spoke. I told him a story of my great niece, also born pre-mature and whose early weeks of life were touch-and-go. I told him what she was like now….a vibrant, smart and beautiful girl, and that his little Presley would wind up the same way. God answered that prayer for his family.

Billy also played a big role in the life of all his grandchildren, especially Stephen who suffers from an incognitive disorder. I’ve witnessed him working with Stephen and you didn’t have to open your eyes very wide to see the loving bond that existed.

I could write volumes about my friend, but the space here doesn’t permit. I’ll leave you with this:

It’s certain that when Rev. Billy Price Presley arrived at the Pearly Gates last week, St. Peter didn’t need to check his ID. Billy was waved straight through to his new heavenly home, one reserved decades ago.

Rest in peace, my friend; your work here on Earth is done, but you left us all better individuals because we were fortunate enough to have crossed your path.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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