Category Archives: thanatos

The passing of Billy the Painter

Obituaries are gold mines of socio-cultural Data, especially when one alters the focus from the facts presented about the deceased to the context in which he or she lived. I first started to accumulate Nova Scotia obituaries 35+ years ago, with an eye to demographic details (especially re: migration), and I regret that I was less than systematic in pursuit of these delicious data. My friend Carolyn Littlejohns forwarded this one, a gem of the genre from the Halifax Chronicle-Herald of Thursday Jan 31, replete with Canadianisms and Maritime syntax:


MacDONALD, William Alexander “Billy the Painter” – 88, 17 Sylvan Valley Rd., Antigonish Co., died Tuesday, January 29, 2008, in St. Martha’s Regional Hospital, Antigonish. Born in Antigonish, he was a son of the late James “Jim the Painter” and Jessie Ann (MacRae) MacDonald. Bill received his education at Morrison School, Antigonish, where he also enjoyed playing hockey. He joined the Canadian Army in 1939 and was stationed in Auld’s Cove, St. John’s and Botwood, N.L. In 1943 he went overseas and was seriously wounded in Falaise, France. Upon returning to Canada, Bill was employed as a painter. While painting the R.K. MacDonald Guest Home, the scaffolding collapsed which left him unable to walk. However, with grit and determination, he overcame this obstacle and walked again. He loved hunting, fishing, fly tying, horse racing and playing the bagpipes. He retired from the federal government after over 25 years of service. He was a member of Arras Branch No. 59, Royal Canadian Legion, Antigonish, the Antigonish Pipe Band and St. Ninian’s Parish. Bill will be very much missed by his family, Charlie the cat, and the “boys at the mall”. Surviving are his wife, the former Nan MacPherson; daughters, Barbara, Saudi Arabia; Alexina, Halifax; Lynn (Brian Quinlan), Scarborough, Ont.; son, John (Joy), Antigonish; grandchildren, Jessa, Alexander, Jade, Brooke; brothers, James, Antigonish; Jobie, North Grant, Antigonish Co.; Lewis, Clydesdale, Antigonish Co.; sisters, Mary LaBrosse, Antigonish; Roberta McFadden, Woburn, Mass.; Jessie Sears, Antigonish; a number of nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by sisters, Sarah Lonergan, Gertye MacPherson, Teresa DuFresne; two brothers in infancy. The family would like to give a thank you to the VON and the nurses at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital for their help and support. Visitation 2-4, 7-9 p.m. today in MacIsaac Funeral Home, 61 Pleasant St., Antigonish. Mass of Christian Burial will be Friday at 11 a.m. in St. Ninian’s Cathedral, Antigonish, Rev. Martin MacDougall presiding. Burial at a later date in St. Ninian’s Cemetery. Memorial donations to St. Ninian’s Restoration Fund. (source)

It’s all here: his sibling set stayed in Antigonish, except for a sister who escaped to the Boston States; his children left Antigonish (all but one) for various greener pastures. In an environment where there are scores of people named “William MacDonald” it’s common to have specifiers like “the Painter” (“the Dancer”, “the Piper”) added to make it quite clear which Billy is the focus of a story. If I had nothing else to do, I’d get out the box of collected obits and extract a few more stories…