Billy Kennedy, a former Irish League footballer and influential baptist preacher who grew up in the town, has died.
On Sunday night at 7pm a service of thanksgiving for the life of Pastor Kennedy will be held in Lurgan Baptist Church.
The pastor, who was one of a family of nine born to Sam and Elizabeth Kennedy, died in Scotland on Sunday, March 23, aged 79.
He grew up in Prince’s Street in Lurgan, with his brothers Nathaniel, Sam, Alec, Stewart, twins Stanley and Gerald and sisters Patsy and Elsie, all of them attending Lurgan Model. Of the nine siblings, only Billy’s two sisters are still living.
When their father Sam was killed during the Second World War in North Africa, their mother Elizabeth was left to bring up the family of nine single-handedly.
Patsy told the ‘MAIL’ that growing up the talk in the house was always of football with her mother as enthusiastic about the game as her sons.
Football-mad Billy began playing football at Lurgan Model and he continued to impress the scouts in the colours of Lurgan Tech. He was snapped up by Portadown and then Linfield made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
He was paid £800 for turning professional with Linfield at a time when footballers in England and Scotland were getting around £20 a week.
An old style centre forward, Billy was Linfield’s leading goalscorer in the 1954/55 season, netting 27 times. He also won several junior and amateur international caps.
Although he had the world at his feet, something significant was to happen to Billy that changed his career path.
In an interview with the Evangelical News, he explained how he found salvation: “In my second season with Linfield something happened. About ten of us used to chum around together and one Sunday night in Lurgan my friends decided to go down to the Baptist Church. The pastor there was a man named Willy Mullen. He had been a tramp and an alcoholic but God had wonderfully changed his life and he now had one of the biggest churches in Northern Ireland. So out of curiosity I went. As I sat listening to Mr Mullen God began to deal with me. And as he came to the end of the meeting I knew I ought to do something. But I went out still in my sin, outside the family and fold of God.
“But the next week I went along again and God spoke to me in a deep way. I came under conviction of sin. Yet still I went out unconverted. But I said to one of my pals, ‘The next time I go back there I’m going to trust the Lord Jesus.’ But I didn’t get back.
“It was 1955. One day I had been training in Belfast and on the road back I met a friend. We decided to go to the pictures. The film starred the singer Mario Lanza and was ‘The Student Prince’. As I was sitting there he started singing a song called ‘I’ll walk with God’. Again God seemed to say to me ‘That’s the answer’.
“I didn’t know then what I know now that ‘two can’t walk together unless they be agreed’. I needed to agree with what God said about me - that I was a sinner. I needed to agree with what he said about his Son - that there is salvation in no other. I knew I had to repent and be converted. That night I knelt beside my bed and took the Lord Jesus as my Saviour.”
Having been saved under the preaching of Pastor Mullen in Lurgan Baptist Church, Billy moved to Glasgow to go to Bible College where he met his wife Brenda.
He went on to spend time evangelising in Liverpool, Scotland and here in Northern Ireland, where he spent much of his time speaking in schools.
Billy and Brenda set up a new church in Banbridge and over the years Billy has been a regular visitor to his home town.
Patsy said: “Billy had so many friends in Lurgan and when he came over he made a point of visiting them all individually.
“As a preacher he was very witty and always had a laugh in his services. He had a gift for getting his message out.”
Billy has four sons and a daughter. His evangelical legacy is being carried on by his son Billy Junior who makes regular pilgrimages to Lurgan to preach in the Emmanuel Church.
Following a short illness Billy passed away on March 23. His funeral was held in Carluke in Scotland, a service which he organised himself.