I never met a man that loved his coffee as much as Bill Hayes. Especially after the Islanders secured a victory. He would always say that the java would taste good.
Very few people really know this gentleman who just passed away from cancer at the age of 85 on Wednesday evening. Even in the Islander fan community, he was not readily known to the average Islander fan.
If you sat in Section 309 over the last 30 + years, row B, seat 11 was the place that he called his seat from 1972 to 2007. He moved down to the lower level, due to the fact that his legs were giving him trouble. Bill was so dedicated and loyal to his team, and to the sport that he loved so much. But to the casual person – you would not know it.
Bill had a ritual. If you sat by him at a game – you can not talk to him much, as he was so intensely watching the game. In his hand, he would have a 4 x 6 note pad. In that pad, he would write down the numbers of the players that are on the ice at the face off, for both sides. He would then notate who won the faceoff. As lines change, he would then keep track of it. It was something that he did at every game he attended, no matter what. When we were on road trips, the person that sat next to him, sometimes would get an earful if they interrupted his task. People just did not understand how Bill watched a game.
For the 20+ years that I have been a member of the Islanders Booster Club, Bill attended just about every road trip that we went on, until his health made it difficult for him. Bill, a a result of some frostbite that he got during World War II, had problems with his legs. Unfortunately, sitting in a bus for a long trip affected him, so at times, we had to stop the bus and let him walk a little, before we could get back on the road.
What impressed me about Bill, is that he was so generous. A former security guard for a bank in Manhattan, he was always one that would give others before himself. One of my first encounters with him years ago, he gave the club some US Open Golf merchandise for us to raffle off during our charity events. They were the best sellers that year, and we would not have done as well as we did, without Bill’s efforts.
Bill always would try and get the tab when we went for a meal. “I had to pull a fast one on him by asking the watriss to give me the check for a dinner”, said Bill Finck, a long time friend of Bill’s. He thought nothing about buying dinner or giving someone a T-shirt. You would never know it – but I think Bill could probably wallpaper his condo with all of the T-shirts he bought during the years. The noticeable thing, was in most cases, I don’t think he ever wore them. Most of them went to someone else.
At every Booster Club meeting, the club would have a few items for ‘giveaway’ for door prizes. As soon as Bill would walk into the room, there would be 2 to 4 new items. No questions asked. He just did it. Of course, every time we would thank Bill for it, he would tip his cap, make a little bow, and nod.
About four or five years ago, Bill had a couple of car accidents, which did not hurt him, but made his stop driving. Did that stop him?
Bill – the ultimate walker, would walk from his home (just across Hempstad Turnpike at the Meadowoods on Front Street), to the Coliseum. Most of the time, he would walk no matter the weather. However, we just did not want him to walk back home, so my wife and I would meet him by the exit gates, and drive him the short distance home. When his physical limitations made it difficult to walk the distance, he would take a cab over to the Marriott, and sit in the lobby for a while, before trekking the 200 yards to the Coliseum. As Bill would walk by the Booster Club table, he would find either myself, or my wife, and again give a tip of the cap, and say either, “See you after the Game!”, or “Have a nice day!” You could not smile after that three second conversation.
When we would meet by our collective gates, he would either say, “The coffee will taste good tonight!”, if we won. If we were the loser, he would put his fist under his chin, and shrugged his shoulders. However, you would not get a lot of anger with him. Just an even keel.
When we would drive him back to the house, he would always thank us so many times or taking him home. It was just a 3 to 5 minute trip, but it was a nice trip. We would listen to the post game on the radio, or talk about the game. Many times, he would come up with a story or two about an old Islander game in the 70’s or a Ranger or Rover game years before that. Yes, Bill had been a Ranger fan in his younger years (but we never held it against him).
Bill’s family lived all across the country. His brother, for years, lived up in the Binghamton area, and now is in Florida. The rest of his family were throughout the North East. Many of us, did not even know about much of his family. He never mentioned it to us. A few weeks ago, Claire and I went to see Bill at the nursing home where he spent his last days. We got the pleasure to meet some of his family, and they told us how he was dedicated to him as well. Every Sunday, he would call his niece at 2:00 PM, like clockwork. Claire and I were shocked when we heard that, because he is not a fan of the telephone. When we had to call him for something, we had to let the phone ring at least 15 to 20 rings, before he would answer it. And the conversation would be short and sweet.
Bill was a simple man, with a heart of gold. To many, he is a difficult man to understand. He had his foibles, and at times could seem a little difficult. Truthfully, many people can have that kind of trait. But to the people that got to know him well, as well as the chosen few that were as close to him, as Claire and I were, it was indeed an honor. He touched a great deal of people, and will be missed.
I will most miss the wait after a game, to see if he is going to enjoy his coffee or not.
And although I have lousy ankles, I would take your other piece of advice.