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!