A life well lived
We are living in strange and unusual times. Life is not what it was and will probably never be the same again. COVID-19 has turned things upside down and we have had to adjust the way we do things. It has been a hectic week. We’ve been busy getting packed up for our journey to our new home in Saskatchewan, while making arrangements for our children, who will not be journeying with us, although our son is coming to Saskatchewan later in the summer.
Added to this was the sad news earlier this week that my Uncle Billy passed away. Today (Saturday) he was laid to rest in Orkney. I would have liked to have been there, but even if I lived there now, COVID restrictions would have meant that I couldn’t have anyway. Under normal circumstances, the church would have been packed out, as he touched so many lives and had been involved in so many aspects of community life.
Uncle Billy was a large part of my life and it is hard to put into words what he meant to me. Although we moved away from Orkney in 1994, he always stayed close in my thoughts. It was always special catching up with him on the occasional visits back ‘home’. He will be deeply missed by those who loved and knew him, but he leaves behind the legacy of a life well lived.
As well as being my uncle, Billy was my first boss at the Post Office, my bandmaster at the Salvation Army, a fellow Rangers fan, and many other things. He retired during my time at the Post Office, but that didn’t slow him down. He continued to be involved in many different things in the community. There are too many to mention, but some of them included a continuation of his life-long involvement with the Salvation Army, volunteering at the local MS hyperbaric chamber, sailing his model yacht, and continuing to play the Last Post at the local Armistice Day parade. He performed the latter for over 60 years. His dedication to local life was recognised when he was awarded the MBE, receiving this award from the Queen. He was also recognised by a motion put forward in the Scottish Parliament, in September 2009, by local MSP Liam McArthur, which read:
That the Parliament notes the decision by Billy Stanger MBE to step down as bandmaster of the Salvation Army in Orkney after 35 years in the role; acknowledges the unstinting service that he has given to the Salvation Army since he joined as an 11-year-old boy in 1943; welcomes the fact that Mr Stanger has made clear his intention to carry on playing in the army band; looks forward to Mr Stanger’s cornet playing inspiring crowds attending Armistice Day parades and other occasions for years to come, and expresses relief that the evening of music at the Salvation Army Hall in Kirkwall on Sunday 13 September 2009 far from represents the last post by Billy Stanger.
Retirement gave him more time to be involved in the lives of his family, who were the first love of his life. He and his wife, Isa, had five children, many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I could try and count them up, but I wouldn’t want to miss any out and get the number wrong. The top picture in this post is from their Ruby Wedding in the 1990s, before we left, and that was their family then. In the ensuing years it has grown a fair bit, many of them born since I left Orkney. Billy didn’t play favourites with his family and was able to share his love with them in equal amounts.
I have lots of special memories of Billy. One is from the second photo above, which was taken in Toronto in 1998. He and Isa, along with other family members, plus one friend who is an honorary aunt in the family, came over when Pamela and I were Commissioned and Ordained as Salvation Army Officers. We were touched by the fact that they all came over to share this special time with us. Another memory is from Glasgow in 1982, when Billy led the SA Kirkwall band playing Divine Communion at the morning meeting of the Scottish Congress. It was a proud moment for us all and it remains one of my favourite pieces to this day. Yet another memory is from Glasgow in April 1984, when Billy took my sister and I to Ibrox to see Rangers beat Celtic 1-0. Bobby Williamson scored the winner with a spectacular overhead kick and Jimmy Nicholl got sent off in what was his last game for the club. There are also lots of happy memories from working with him at the Post Office. He was a great boss to work with and was probably too lenient on many of us, especially considering how young and foolish we were at times.
Music was a big part of Billy’s life. As well as being involved in the musical sections at the SA, he was involved in a variety of community musical groups, including the local operatic society. In the early 1980s I played briefly with him in a brass quintet put together by John Jones, which was lots of fun. Recently, while packing up our stuff here I came across a CD my dad sent me from 2008, when Billy was the guest on a show on Radio Orkney, sharing some of his favourite music and the stories behind why he picked the particular ones he did. It is a great listen and just showed how eclectic his taste in music was. My only complaint is that the show was too short! I’m sure there was much more that he could have shared.
Above everything else, Billy was a great Christian example to us all. This was exemplified more in his actions than anything else. The way he lived his life backed up what he believed. Anyone who knew or met him could have no doubt that he had a deep faith. He loved sharing his witness through music, be it playing his cornet or singing in the songsters, male voice choir, or with anyone who would join him in song. He was as comfortable playing his cornet for royalty as he was playing on the streets of Kirkwall. It must have been difficult for him when he had to give up his playing later in life, but he passed on that love of banding to many of his family members, so that legacy still lives on.
Uncle Billy will be missed by many, but I can say without a doubt that his life was one that was well lived. We have sorrow over the fact that he is no longer on this earth with us, but we also rejoice in the fact that he is no longer in pain, as he has gone on to his heavenly reward.