"Billy Manes was more than a Warhol-like character pulling strings and slyly offering social commentary. He was a man I was proud to know and learn from."tweet this
Take note, Orlando; we lost someone special today.
Billy's heart was too big for his fragile body. Not that he'd let on. You'd hug him tight when you'd see him and his hips would dig into you, as if warning, "Don't love me too hard, you could bruise me." Not that he'd push you away. Waif-thin with hair you could see across the room before you spotted his flailing arms or heard his laugh. This precious man with a twinkle in his eye. Letting you know he was in on a joke that you might figure out later if you paid attention and stayed close.
Billy was always real. In his writing, in his relationships with people and co-workers. His work was blunt and lyrical, and to the point.
I cut my teeth in the print world with Billy at Orlando Weekly. I fell into a job there as Calendar Editor after getting laid off by the City of Winter Park. The editorial staff had drunk some sort of Kool-Aid, making them believe I could learn quickly and join their team of alt-paper cool kids. They let me sit at their table for a whole year, grooming me with endless patience. Billy was one of the ones that took me under his wing and made me realize I had a voice that people could listen to. A voice that could, if refined, hold some weight. He encouraged me and coddled me, and massaged my little editor brain into something that would produce a legible (if grammatically incorrect) thought now and then.
When I was offered a job at Bungalower he was one of the first to put down his saltine crackers, clap his hands, and push me on my way.
Billy Manes was more than a shock of white hair in a crowd, or a Warhol-like character pulling strings and slyly offering social commentary. He was a cheerleader. A friend. A man I was proud to know and learn from.
Billy spoke up for social justice. He shared his shortcomings and made it OK for us to do the same. He was raw, he was funny, and sometimes a mess. And I loved him for it.
Billy Manes died on Friday, July 21, surrounded by dear friends and his charming husband, Tony. A family he had curated over the years. Their loss is echoed in our city and carried on countless shoulders as we face a world that is less colorful and less truthful than it was before.
Today we cry, but tomorrow we'll cherish.
Brendan O'Connor is a multi-disciplinary artist and editor of Bungalower.com, where this essay was first posted July 21. He worked as Orlando Weekly's calendar editor from 2013 to 2015.