Remembering Billy Sheahan
March 8, 2018 by Andrew Schneider
The Chicago creative community this week is mourning artist, photographer and editor Billy Sheahan and early plans are in the works a memorial event.
Sheahan was born on the South Side of Chicago and lived there until he was school age when his family moved to Hammond, IN. He attended Our Lady of Perpetual Help grade school then Bishop Knoll High School. The son of a college professor, Sheahan attended Purdue University Calumet and became the photographer for the school newspaper.
While working at the paper, Sheahan learned that long-time Bozo the Clown, Bob Bell was retiring. Sheahan convinced his editor that he needed to be there and was granted a press pass to attend the show.
"If I’m not mistaken, the only other newspapers there where the Tribune and Sun Times," said Tom Dernulc, a close friend and former co-worker. "Billy always had these kinds of instincts for photography. He always seemed to be in the right place at the right time."
There is quite a lineage of talented artist here and across the country that owe a huge debt of gratitude to Sheahan, Dernulc, currently working at The Colonie as a VFX and finish artist.
"Not only was he incredibly talented as an editor, photographer and musician, but he had a passion and curiosity about the technical aspects of the tools he used to master each discipline as well," Dernulc said. "He never stopped learning and that made him such a valuable guy to have around. However, what made him so loved was his kindness and generosity. He would always take the extra time to make sure you 'got it.' There was never a condescending tone even as he explained the most basic thing for the second or third time. He was the best teacher and if you speak to anyone whoever worked with him they will tell you they wouldn’t be where they are today without him."
Sheahan also donated his time to user groups and panel discussions to make sure the needs of the professional working editor were represented. He had the technical chops to speak to the engineers and developers to make sure they understood why the editor might need a particular feature or why an existing module might need more development.
"If you met Billy, you liked Billy," Dernulc said. "He was kind and thoughtful and hilarious. If it’s true that it takes more effort to smile than to frown then a night out with Billy was exhausting. My face would be sore from all the laughter. His wit was so quick and sharp that a spit take was a regular occurrence. Billy’s laugh was legendary. It could be heard throughout the facility or restaurant and could bring a smile to the face of anyone within earshot."
After college Sheahan started his career at Swell Pictures where he worked his way up the ranks from Tape Operator to Creative Editor. After Swell, he moved to Avenue Edit and continued his editing career there. He ended his Chicago run at The Colonie before moving to LA.
"Billy always came to work with a smile, joyous and eager to work," said Mary Caddy, one of the founders of The Colonie. "It was always a treat to see his work. He saw things differently than most people and gave you something that was unexpected, surprising and yet exactly right."
Aside from his day job, Sheahan would work tirelessly nights and weekends on his photography. Traveling the world then documenting the trips with amazing photos and accompanying essays. He had a photography blog and sent out monthly postcards to subscribers with a photo on the front and a wonderfully written essay about the photo on the back. The essays were written in his voice and were filled with his personality. It was like he was speaking directly to you. For many friends and family who had moved away or may have lost touch with Billy, those postcards were a great way to stay acquainted and get your little "Billy fix" once a month.
"I really can’t say enough about how much Billy was loved except to say that while we’ve been talking about where to hold a memorial for him - a celebration of life- for the Chicago Post and Advertising community," Dernulc said. "We have yet to decide what venue will be big enough for the number of people we know would want to attend. Maybe Grant Park? We might put that Cubs rally to shame."