Menswear legend billy neville has died

by Karen Alberg Grossman
Billy Neville

MR magazine is deeply saddened to report the loss of Billy Neville, an industry icon and friend to so many in the menswear industry. He was found Monday morning in his apartment by his brother John after friends were worried that Billy wasn’t answering his phone. (Would Billy ever miss the opportunity for a long chat?) He apparently died of a heart attack or stroke; he was 79.

Billy grew up in McComb and graduated from the University of Mississippi. He was well known in the menswear industry for founding (in 1967) The Rogue men’s clothing store in Jackson, which became the go-to shop for fashion-forward southern gentlemen and a prototype for other preppy menswear stores around the state. He’s also famous for his work rebranding Will Leathergoods, for merchandising the World War 11 Museum gift shop, for his many clever marketing concepts for numerous brands, and for his generosity helping retailers, manufacturers and entrepreneurs in all aspects of their business. If you were Billy’s friend, there was nothing he wouldn’t do for you.

Says good friend Keith Kinkade, “Billy sent me money after college when I was broke so I could come work for him in Jackson. I worked with him at his store for more than ten years and then, with Luke Abney, bought the store. When I ultimately opened my own store, Billy remained a tremendous mentor, teaching me tricks of the trade. For example, he used to give out pumpkin pies to his customers at Thanksgiving: I asked if I could borrow that idea and he was delighted to share it! I credit him with almost everything I know about retailing and customer service.”

Bill Adler from Will Leathergoods was devastated to learn the news. “Billy was a true friend, more like a brother to me. He was always there when the good things happened but also powerfully present when I needed encouragement. He was an encyclopedia regarding the men’s business in America from 1920 to present day: he knew so much about fabrics, advertising, forecasting, sourcing. Until his last days on earth, he kept us informed about the latest trends. What a wealth of knowledge, and always with a joke and (lengthy) story to back up his point of view. He was a giant in the industry with a giant heart. I will miss him dearly.”

Says Fred Derring of DLS buying office, “Billy and I met years ago through Herb Sills and we became instant friends from that day. He was the best friend imaginable—always sharing his wisdom and dreams and touching so many lives in positive ways. He will forever live on in so many people’s memories…”

Informa exec Lizette Chin remembers a special gesture. “At the age of 77, Billy drove more than two hours to a memorial service to pay his respects to James. I’ll never forget it. He was a true Southern gentleman.” Says retailer Jeff Daquanno, “I will miss my weekly calls from Billy, a true friend and a wonderful person.” Says Lewis Cocke, “I got into the menswear industry because of Billy. I was one of his first customers back in ‘67 on N State next to the Capri.” From Whit Simmons, “Billy gave me my first opportunity for employment out of college in Memphis many years ago. I’m still here. Thanks for all you taught me Billy Neville.” Says Craig DeLongy, “An awesome guy with a million-dollar personality.” And from Joseph Campo, “His store and his spirit were upbeat and unique; his blend of passion and humor will be sorely missed.”

Billy is survived by his three daughters—Key Whitehead, Missy Crawford, and Paige McLeod–eight grandchildren, his brother John Beard Neville and sister-in-law Sue. A funeral service will be held this Friday, October 11th at Saint Andrews Episcopal Church and Cathedral in Jackson; visitation is at 10:00, funeral at 11:00. His menswear industry friends are also planning a memorial celebration in NYC. (More info to come.)

For those so inclined, donations can be made in memory of Billy to J.J. White Presbyterian Church, 110 Third Street, McComb, MS 39648 or to Saint Andrews Episcopal Cathedral, 305 E. Capitol St, Jackson, MS 39201.

We miss you already Billy Neville, menswear maven and wonderful soul. We now rest assured that those Angels in Heaven will be fashionably attired!

18 Replies to “MENSWEAR LEGEND BILLY NEVILLE HAS DIED”

  1. A true Superman!
    I will miss his monthly calls, always encouraging me to hang in there and simply his friendship for so many years.
    Billy, I along with the industry will miss your greatly . . . you were truly one of the best of a kind.

    1. I met Billy only recently and there was an instantaneous connection because that was the kind of gentleman he was; sorry to hear of his passing.

    2. Certainly one of my dearest friends who never forgot a birthday or a fun evening over dinner in NYC I will miss him dearly. Over a conversation he would stop and saw Dick, thank you for being my friend. He truly was a special man who touched my soul. Love you Billy

  2. I met Billy many years ago when I first moved to Dallas, as I was a “damn Yankee” selling clothing in the South. For the next 20+ years every time he saw me he would jokingly ask “…how many people have you pissed off today?” I ran into Billy just last week and of course he asked me that same question as soon as he saw me.
    Rest in peace my friend!

  3. Hearts are truly heavy of learning this fine kind gentleman has gone on to talk with the angels; as we all know he will. Will miss seeing Billy throughout the shows, where he always never missed a beat to take time to stop and chat a while with some great stories!
    Extremely sad of Billys passing but to see his smile here, makes me smile, and gives me a huge pleasure to know him. He will always
    be close as we will never forget BILLY NEVILLE.

  4. I was blessed to call Billy my friend. There was no better friend to so many. When you were with Billy you always felt like the most important person to him. As I read the lovely tributes to Billy, one realizes that he touched so many and always reached out in the good times and difficult ones. If you were blessed to have Billy in your life you were truly blessed. We can all learn from Billy’s gestures what true friendship is.
    God Speed Dear Billy Neville and thank you for being my friend.

  5. Billy, always lit up the room as room as he entered. It was impossible to not like Billy, and easy to love him.
    He was the warmest, most giving person I have ever met, and his love and enthusiasm for our industry was infectious.
    There will never be anyone like him and I for one will never forget him. So Billy will live on as long as we remember.
    Rest Well MyFriend.

    1. Billy was a true maverick in this industry. I fortunately had the opportunity and pleasure to work with him on a project several years ago. His wealth of knowledge, kindness, and work ethic will for ever be remembered. Thank you Billy for your contributions to this industry and for being an amazing mentor to so many of us. You will always be admired and appreciated. Although you are and will be greatly missed, Rest In Peace my friend.

    2. up there in menswear heaven with Greg Eveloff, Syd Jerome and many other hall of famers who made our industry what it was and is. Imagine the shop these guys are putting together now!

      Steve Rosenstein

  6. When I was diagnosed with cancer in 2003 Billy called my Wife JANE the day after surgery to see how I was doing. He wished us a speedy recovery and told JANE to please tell Gary I’m sending him an order for 50 dozen ties and enclosing a check in the envelope. He knew how much I loved my business and that was his way of cheering me up. Always called me Pal. That was Billy. Many other stories but too many to write here.

  7. I first met Billy back in 2000, when we joined DLS Outfitters. His enthusiasm was infectious. In addition to focusing on his own business, he always seemed to genuinely care about everyone else’s. I always appreciated him sharing all of his marketing knowledge – and I used a lot of it! I’ll truly miss the conversations I had with him.

  8. We considered Billy Neville one of our dearest friends—over many decades. We were all in the clothing business, of course……me as a fellow retailer and my wife Joan knew Billy originally in NYC with Ghurka in wholesale years ago. Billy was an unbelievable merchant ! He knew how to not only go to market and buy the nice and wonderful things for his store that many of us were also buying —but he knew how to produce his own goods and was a master at building his own Rogue Brand. He knew how to be profitable—and always seemed to get there in amazing ways. For instance, to be sure to lure traffic to his third floor Boys Dept—-Billy found an antique ice cream parlor and installed it. It later would be touted as one of the TOP Antique Ice Cream Parlors in the USA !
    One of our favorite stories is how he used to buy Gray T-Shirts and Gray Sweatshirts——as Seconds! They had slubs and knicks in them. His famous ROGUE Logo was then printed on them….Rogue label sewn in…..and a Parchment looking vintage hang tag tied on with twine and a story calling them “One of a Kind ! Each one unique!” They became huge novelties and topics of conversation. And—of course—he made a few pennies on them. Billy Neville was really the PT Barnum of the Clothing Industry!
    In the last few years Billy must have been at our home in Indianapolis 8-10 times. This was NOT an easy drive for Billy. He had so many wonderful qualities but “sense of direction” was not among them. We often felt we needed to talk him all the way to our door. We loved those visits. He would always say he couldn’t wait to get to our house to be “horizontal on the couch” to watch his beloved Ole Miss football games (which we loved too as our son graduated from Ole Miss) and old movies. Billy was always full of great old stories. He was always loaded with ideas and we know he was still working on many things till his last day.
    Billy loved his signature look of denim shirts, striped repp tie and khaki pants. We recently found a denim shirt for him (a specific one he had been looking for) and had planned to give it to him this Christmas.
    We cannot believe that he is gone. We will miss him terribly…..both of us. Think he would call and spend 45 minutes on the phone with me …..and then 45 minutes on the phone with Joan. Our prayers to his family. He was a gem. Truly special person.
    Dennis and Joan Dann
    Dann Clothing, Indianapolis

  9. I will miss Billy at markets. He always had a sparkle to his eyes that told you how much he loved the business. He was one of the first retailers to understand that shopping for clothes is as much about the experience and is show business. Billy made you think about how to be special and today, that’s more important than ever. I am glad that I visited his store. Thanks Billy for the hand written notes and always stopping to say hello. You raised the retail bar.

  10. Billy and I met at the DLS meetings…his encouragement will always be remembered. His stay for a week with us for the Brimfield Antique Show was a highlight of our relationship…Sorry Billy I didn’t get a chance to earn a commission on the soda fountain.

  11. Billy was a dear friend and sort of “adopted” me when I moved to Jackson several years ago. I’m sure he did that with other folks too, although he and I had a real connection to our hometown McComb. His service today at St. Andrew’s Cathedral was standing room only and so uplifting. Some friends and I are talking about starting a men’s clothes closet in his name and wonder if his retail and other friends might be interested in participating. Please let me know when the NYC memorial is, where etc. Some of us would like to attend. (patsy.brumfield@gmail.com)

  12. After graduating from college, I worked for Billy at The Rogue from 1976 through 1981 and those were some of the most fun years of my life. Not only did I learn a lot about the men’s retail industry, but Billy always amazed me with how he treated clients, strangers, customers, and friends. I will miss our “catch-up” phone calls and his never-ending words of encouragement. RIP, Billy.

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