Bill Keys was a man of faith, hope and love. The theological virtues were obvious in his life. To all who knew him, these need no explanation, but as the first anniversary of his death approaches, I consider it fitting to reflect on his life.
Bill grew up to be a very impressive individual. A big personality and a man of good stature, Bill exuded self-confidence, verbal fluency and charisma. At a moment’s notice he could speak to anyone about anything, all the while putting the person completely at ease in his presence. It’s true to say that Bill was delightful company, smiling and laughing, uplifting everyone with the freshness of his humour.
Bill also had the uncommon ability to consistently say what needed to be said, without ever offending the listener. It was immediately apparent that he had a kind heart, so that he always spoke with complete honesty, even if the message was challenging. He never spoke ill of anyone and never spoke harshly to anyone. His natural gentleness and total integrity shone through every phrase.
He was a natural in every way, at home in himself and deeply loved in his own home. A splendid husband to Mary and the proud father of Margaret, Rosemary, Tina and William, there was nothing he would not have undertaken for the love of his family. They miss him more than words can say.
Brought up with sterling faith, Bill could not have done more for the Church, particularly his beloved Long Tower. He was a lynch-pin in the parish for almost half a century. From his teenage years, he was fund raising and assisting the clergy with the utmost generosity.
One of the priests who served in St Columba’s in the 1960s, described Bill as his right hand man. I can sincerely give him the same attribution in relation to my time as curate and administrator of Long Tower. He conveyed such enthusiasm for the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the church that I gladly appointed him chairman of the Centenary committee in 2009. Bill carried this role with humility, all the while demonstrating expertise, diligence and creativity. It was a pleasure to witness him chairing the weekly meetings, knowing that he would always come prepared and would humorously exhort the members to fulfil their duties.
Bill employed the same qualities in his working years, in Canada and the USA. Repatriating in 1975, he became an instructor in engineering and lectured in business management. He served generously on Derry City Council and subsequently as Vice Chair of the Northern Ireland Fire Service, for which he was awarded an OBE in 1996.
The source of Bill’s unbounded stamina for home, family, parish and community was his deep faith. He lived a life of profound prayer and sacrament all his days.
In his retirement years, he began at 9:30 each morning with the Divine Mercy Chaplet and Rosary in the church, followed by Mass, in which he often served as reader or Eucharistic minister.
During the day, he would regularly be seen walking around the Stations of the Cross and spending quiet time before the tabernacle or the monstrance. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was at the centre of his life, ensuring that he had a heart full of love for God and neighbour.
Although his body was physically weakening over the years, Bill ensured that his soul was spiritually strengthening. When his poor heart took its final beats on Thursday, the sixth day of March 2014, it was truly ready to unite with the Sacred Heart.
From his earliest days, Bill Keys had surrendered his life to the Lord. The untimely intervention of death was his last earthly act of submission to the Divine Will.
We deeply mourn his passing and miss his presence in our lives. If he has any time to spend in Purgatory, we earnestly offer him our prayers.
Like all the Holy Souls, we beg pardon for his sins and reward for his good deeds. His virtues were many and his failings few. Verily, his memory will be cherished by all who were privileged to share his journey. We thank God for the good, kind and gentle soul that we knew in Bill Keys. May his entry to paradise be swift and his reward abundant. St Columba, pray for him. May he rest in peace. Amen.