Remembering Billy Mills

Billy Mills — a descendant of one of Westport’s oldest families, now in its 10th generation here — died Wednesday. He was 75.

His nephew, Jacques Voris, writes:

Born in Norwalk Hospital at 13 pounds, 13 ounces, Billy grew up on North Avenue in a house his father, Homer Mills, built from materials salvaged from the Bedford family racetrack pavilion in Greens Farms. Billy was like his father: a frugal Yankee who did not let anything “perfectly good” go to waste.

When Billy was young, North Avenue was a narrow dirt road lined with ponds. When it snowed, men plowed it by hand.

He  attended Greens Farms Elementary School, Long Lots Junior High School, and was a member of the first class to go all the way through the new Staples High School up the street from his home.

Billy Mills, around 1960.

As a teenager he developed what became a lifelong passion for automobiles. He was a member of the legendary Downshifters, a car club that met on Friday nights at the YMCA.

In 1965 Billy married Judith Ann Nelson. They lived in his grandmother’s former house on North Avenue, adjacent to his boyhood home. He renovated the house using bricks from the original Staples High on Riverside Avenue, after it was torn down in 1967. The couple lived there until 2014.

Billy operated a refuse collection business for 15 years. He then worked for his father’s masonry company, Homer Mills & Sons. He left to work for AJ Izzo as a carpenter. Their most notable project was the development of Imperial Landing.

When AJ opened Crossroads Hardware, Billy set out on his own as a carpenter. He earned a reputation for quality work, with many repeat customers. He helped restore the Red Barn for the Nistico family, building the new back bar.

Billy was an immensely generous man, unconcerned with monetary fortune. His wealth was measured by the people who thought highly of him. He was always willing to help. A man might not have 2 nickels to rub together, but Billy would gladly give the shirt off his back. He had a legendary ability to borrow anything, and would just as readily lend.

The century-old Mills home at 54 North Avenue. It has since been torn down.

Billy is survived by his wife of over 50 years, Judith; son Christopher; sister Patricia; brother Homer; grandson Christopher Devon, and many nieces and nephews.

A memorial service will be held on Saturday, February 9 (11 a.m., St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Westport).

15 responses to “Remembering Billy Mills

  1. This is Sad News .. Billy was one of the rare Good Guys .. He will be Deeply Missed .. Rip Old Friend

  2. Charles Taylor

    Billy and I were in the same class at Staples and Downshifters together. A willing hand! Gods Speed.

  3. Jacques, sorry for your loss.

    There was one thing in your historical writeup that really surprised me. North Avenue was still a dirt road in the mid-or-late 1940s? When was it first paved?

    Also, it seems that your uncle might have been part of the first class to go all the way through the new Long Lots Jr High (and I imagine your uncle’s parents were very happy when that opened since it too was so much closer than the alternative).

    • Fred,

      According to my mother, North Avenue was paved after World War II but before 1950. On a side note, it was not until they built Staples on North Avenue that they numbered the houses.

      She also says she was the first class at Long Lots, so about 3 years before Billy would have come through.

      • Michael Calise

        First year at Long Lots was second semester only which your mom attended, first semester was split sessions at Bedford Jr. Your Mom graduated last class at old Staples (1958) Your uncle Billy graduated new Staples (1962) Thanks for the wonderful story. Your Grandfather helped me install the flagpole at my first office at the intersection of main and myrtle. I asked ” Homer how long will this last” He said “we’ll both be gone” Its still standing! Your Grandfather was a wonderful man as was your Uncle Billy. So sorry for your loss. Very hard to see the core of our town fade away. Citizens like yourself sure help to keep it alive in our minds eye. My thoughts and prayers are with your family. .

  4. Werner Liepolt

    This is sad news. Billy and his brother not only built the foundation on our 1980’s addition but also shared their copious knowledge of Westport’s history. Thanks for the story of Billy. Our condolences to his family and all those dear to him.

  5. What a class act, classic story! Godspeed Billy! – Chris Woods

  6. Fond memories Dan; thank you. I don’t remember Billy, but I clearly remember Larry and his dad Homer, for whom I worked during the summers. Lessons learned from that iconic old Yankee stand me in good stead to this day – beyond masonry.

  7. Your recollections, Jacques, brought both a tear to my eye and a smile to my face. How I love and appreciate your stories about our beloved town and the manner in which you share them. Please know of our warmest thoughts and condolences for you and yours. Your Family Legacy is alive and well though you and through your darling, son, Quint. May God bless you all as Billy, I’m sure, rests in peace. ~the Feliciano’s

  8. Bettina Gangi

    Billy Mills…what a nice guy, and gifted,too.
    Years ago, AJ Izzo recommended him to us for carpentry work at our home only a block or so away from the Mills home.

    One day he departed at lunch break; only an hour or so later bringing a gift, an exquisite multi-family birdhouse. Subsequently I purchased several similar houses for friends and family. And when we moved I gave Bill’s gift to backdoor neighbors, not wanting the residents to fly too far from their original property.

    Bill was ill for a long time, this I knew.
    Russ and I send our sympathies to his family.

  9. Judy Nelson grew up across the street from us on Hickory drive. I was much younger, but remember Billy Mills as he was there quite often visiting his in- laws.
    He was always nice to us kids in the neighborhood…. back then, everyone used to make piles of leaves in the Fall and burn them…..I remember him letting me light the leaf pile ablaze! A thrill for a little kid…
    Rest in Peace.

  10. Mary Cookman Schmerker SHS '58

    My condolences to the family. While I did not know Billy I’ll bet my brother Corky and he knew each other through the Downshifters. I knew Gail and Grover who were, I think, one year younger than I am. I remember their mother Betty and as soon as I hit post I’ll remember their dad’s first name. A great Westport family who was always “there” when needed doing what ever was needed.

  11. Patricia Voris

    Billy and Corky were best buddies. Unfortunately Corky died much too young. Michael Calise is right. We were the first class to graduate from Long Lots Junior High. Thank you all for your comments about Billy. He had a wide circle of friends. We hope to see many of you at his memorial service.

    • Mary Cookman Schmerker Staples '58

      Thank you Patricia. Please know that you and the whole family are in my prayers at this difficult time. The Mills family made so many quiet contributions to Westport that live on in the wonderful spirit of the town. Please know that even when we forget a name as we grow older we don’t forget the lasting impression they have made in our lives and for the well being of our home town. It is a part of our DNA.

  12. Sorry to hear this news; think Billy was a Downshifter with my brothers Beau and Michael. I remember the house on North Ave (now replaced) so well! Actually I vent at its replacement every time I pass it. I grew up and was friends with Virginia Mills; my brother Beau raised chickens & pigeons and was friends with Clifford Mills; I was in Malcolm Mills’ play ISAAC (which Paul Newman helped support). And Malcolm was one of the most talented early Staples Players ever–still remember him performing Krapp’s Last Tape. The Mills family is woven throughout the rich history of this town, early farming families, and making the whole place work. I send my condolences to all the Mills!