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Every single week while proofreading obituaries before the page goes to press, someone in the newsroom always says the same thing—I wish I would have gotten to know this person before he/she passed away.
There are so many people who have led great lives, had interesting professions or made great contributions to society who have flown under the radar. The broken record plays every week in our newsroom, but it’s true. There are so many people here in Brunswick County whose stories never had the chance to be told, and we’ve missed out on meeting some really phenomenal individuals.
This week, it was my turn to turn the record on. I wish I would have had the pleasure to meet Billy Ray Stone before he passed away last week. The 20-year-old West Brunswick High School graduate was killed in a single-vehicle wreck while coming home from job-related training in the middle of the night.
A few days after his untimely death, one of Billy’s former teachers at West Brunswick called the Beacon office and was routed to my phone. She asked if I could come out to the school and meet with some of Billy’s former teachers who had wanted to share memories for a possible article.
As I walked up to the school Monday afternoon to meet the teachers, I was expecting to walk into a room with a handful of people waiting for me. Instead, I walked into the school library where nearly 20 teachers, administrators and a former assistant principal who now leads a school across the county were all there wanting to pay homage to a student who greatly touched each of their lives.
From what they told me, Billy was a remarkable young man. He was a student who worked hard in all his classes. He was always willing to lend a helping hand with a big, bright smile on his face. He always took advantage of opportunities and was not afraid to ask for help. He had big dreams and was determined to make something of himself.
He was one of the first people in his family to graduate high school. He was on track to become a store manager and worked hard to support his fiancée and his baby daughter.
One teacher said Billy did the best with what he had—he didn’t have a lot, but he did great things and exceeded expectations. Billy’s kindness, genuineness and sincerity touched hundreds of people and made a bigger impression than he most likely knew.
I left Billy’s former teachers with mixed emotions—sad that once again, we missed an opportunity to talk to a remarkable person but inspired to become a better version of myself. One of his former teachers said Billy left this world with no regrets on how he treated people, and that not many people would be able to say that.
Even though Billy’s no longer here to treat the world with kindness, we can still learn from him and work toward being better people every day.