Artist taught a generation at ‘Tech’

Billy Hussey
Billy Hussey

The much loved Lurgan painter William (Billy) Hussey has died. The words make for sad reading across the town and far beyond.

Billy was the only child of Thomas (‘Jock’) and Jane Hussey. He was dearly loved by five aunts – to the degree that people often said of him that Bill had six mothers.

He lived initially in Mark Street, then James Street (off Hill St). The collection of books and academic material amassed in that little house could have equipped any Oxford don. To visit was to walk into the colourful cornucopia of a working artist’s studio.

Billy also taught art to a generation of people in Lurgan Tech, and pupils will remember his love of the subject in all its forms – painting, books, music and film. He never married but was by no means a loner, having held a lifelong association with The Mechanic’s Institute in Lurgan where he was Secretary for years.

To this day many of his large friezes adorn the walls of the Institute, painted in his highly personalised and colourful style. This work is his civic testament and contains references to the style of Billy’s former teacher, the great John Luke.

He was a talented footballer in his day, having been ‘on the books’ with both Glenavon and Portadown and he followed Glenavon all his life.

Bill was first to admit that as a young man he ‘drank to bate the band. Remarkably then, he chose the life of a tee-totaller till his dying day.

A conversationalist and principled contrarian, Billy rarely sold a painting. Sought after and offered countless commissions, he preferred to paint from the heart.

For the most part he just gave his paintings away to friends, including my father (also Billy). His work stands as a social history of Lurgan, its characters and traders.

He once told me that his paintings of the 1992 bomb in Lurgan were his best work. He felt that act wrenched the heart out of the town. Billy also painted bygone industrial Belfast and the North Antrim coast. We spent many’s the happy hour up at the Causeway, where his eyes would light up with wonder at each succeeding sunset.

Billy faced cancer twice in his last years. Despite the seriousness and frustration of that condition, I remember the warm banter between nurses and patient in the Belfast Cancer Centre. He died peacefully on 21st April. In good time, I hope to curate an exhibition of his life’s work in Lurgan.

An intelligent, irreligious man of the left, he despised sectarianism all his life and yearned for a time when people here could live peacefully as neighbours again. In this sense, he was generations ahead of his time.

He had style and confidence. He loved children, and people loved his quick wit and easy manner. All his life Billy was engaged by the power and possibility offered by art and the sciences.

His worldly wisdom and loving manner will live long in the memories of all of us lucky enough to have known him.