William David “Billy” Vannoy died suddenly in West Hartford, Conn. on June 11, 2021. He was 58.
A talented mechanic who trained in the U.S. Air Force in 1981 and 1982, he was a force who leaves an eclectic collection of brilliant friends from all over. He had a special connection to Provincetown, where he lived for 20 years and set up his garage, Vannoy Motors, at 141 Bradford St.
He traveled the world from Okinawa to Hawaii, the Philippines, and Guam, from West Texas to Detroit, and all over New England.
“Billy’s charisma and lust for life were famously infectious,” said his friend Yoshi Bird this week. “No one on Earth before or since has ever lived the hell out of every second the way he did.”
He was born in Uniontown, Pa. on April 13, 1963. His sister Dorothea said that he was obsessed with bikes from an early age, racing them, taking them apart, and putting them back together.
“He loved to race down the highway on his bike doing well over 75,” said Bird, “and while most people would be content with that, he’d turn it up a notch by cranking the throttle and doing a wheelie.” He was said to have once toured Mexico on his motorcycle with $13,000 in cash sewed into the lining of his leather jacket.
He could walk into the toughest bar and, within minutes, have everyone singing along with him to his favorite song.
He consumed every new experience with ferocious intensity, from reading a 2,000-page Mark Twain anthology in less than a week, to a brief flirtation with born-again Christianity (followed by a quick return to his avowed “anti-theism”), to experimental vegan cooking in his last year.
Billy seemed to know everyone: artists, philosophers, writers, jet-setters, and homeless people struggling to survive. With everyone, he generated an instant spark of connection with his radiant smile, good looks, and irresistible charm. He made every new acquaintance feel heard, seen, and special — even as Billy himself often struggled with loneliness. He had a gift for pushing back the grayness of ordinary life and making it pulse with vivid colors — and for daring those around him to join him in endless adventure.
He first met his friend Bruce Van Allen in Colorado and then again, serendipitously, in Provincetown; he was in awe of artist Gemma Fabris and cared deeply for her son, Maren. He respected his friend and fellow veteran Ronny Hazel, proprietor of Shop Therapy; and he was eternally grateful to Johnny McNulty, a kindred spirit and lifelong friend. When Billy needed to wrap up some unfinished business in Massachusetts, it was Johnny who opened his home to him.
A man’s man, Billy was surprisingly sensitive. He loved Charlotte Brontë, Phantom of the Opera, and Lizzo as much as he did Charles Bukowski, Johnny Cash, and John Cougar Mellencamp. He loved with loyalty, tenderness, and a fiercely protective instinct.
He was a champion of anyone forgotten by society and gave what little he had to those he felt needed it more, putting change in the cup of a disabled veteran or sitting up all night with someone he had just met, ready to call an ambulance in case they overdosed.
He was an avid reader of U.S. military history, especially stories of the young men who risked their lives at 18 or 19 in World War II. He believed strongly in giving children a safe and happy childhood free from abuse and in nurturing the art and beauty in them. He spent long hours in pursuit of perfection, restoring antique furniture, building custom fireplaces, sculpting, and repairing automobiles. He would, without a second thought, risk everything he had to defend a friend from someone who had wronged them.
Billy was predeceased by his beloved brother Howard. He is survived by his sisters, Dorothea Tyrrell of Fairfield, Conn. and Heather Meehan of Carey, N.C.; his nieces and nephews; and his many friends.
After returning to “the cosmic void” where he claimed he had spent the first 3,000 years of his existence, Billy will be buried with military honors in Middletown, Conn.
To remember him, his friends ask that those who knew him make art, be kind to children, and reach out to someone who is struggling.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this obituary incorrectly reported Billy Vannoy’s birthdate. It was April 13, 1963, not Feb. 13.