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Billy O’Shea, Melmark resident who was ‘nothing but love,’ dies at 67

Mr. O'Shea lived a happy life, filled with friends, religion, the orchestra, and visits to fancy restaurants. His sister said he was love personified.

William J. O'Shea
William J. O'SheaRead moreCourtesy of the Lehrer and O'Shea Families (custom credit)

He liked to be called “George” because George Washington was one of his heroes.

He liked to engage people in conversation, telling them, “You’re beautiful, you’re lovely.”

He liked a piece of music so much that he once stood between movements at a Philadelphia Orchestra concert and yelled, “Bravo!”

When William J. O’Shea, 67, died on Christmas of complications from dementia at his home in the Melmark facility in Berwyn, Delaware County, it left a hole in the hearts of those who knew him.

“He was the greatest gift that Mary and I have ever had,” said a somber Samuel Lehrer, a Philadelphia Municipal Court judge. He and his wife were Mr. O’Shea’s guardians. “He was a gift.”

“We will miss him,” said Mr. O’Shea’s sister Anne Brown. “He was just nothing but love. You never saw him angry or unhappy. Just looking at him made you happy.”

Mr. O’Shea, known both as “Billy” and “Georgie,” was born in 1952 with Down syndrome. He grew up in Darby Borough and attended public schools.

Because his parents, John and Mary, couldn’t care for him, Mr. O’Shea’s sister Mary Lehrer and her husband became his guardians in 1972.

Two years later, Mr. O’Shea moved to Melmark, a residence for those with autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disabilities, and genetic and neurological differences.

“Paul and Mildred Krentel opened the place because they had a daughter who had Down syndrome,” Samuel Lehrer said. “Billy O’Shea was regarded as one of her companions.”

At Melmark, Mr. O’Shea had a paid job in the dish room. Although unable to read, he could talk on the phone and absorb stories told by his companions. He was very popular.

“He respected religion and could recite the major stories in the Bible,” the judge said. “He would tell you about Moses, Noah’s Ark, and he could recite the Lord’s Prayer. He was very devout and understood death.”

When someone lost a loved one, he would comfort the mourner by saying the deceased was in heaven. “He was that sensitive,” Lehrer said.

As a boy and young man, he participated in the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. An engaging, outgoing man, Mr. O’Shea enjoyed going to parties and family gatherings with the Lehrers.

“He was the life of the party,” Lehrer said. “He would be a good example for the other children who would be shy.”

Unconstrained by convention, Mr. O’Shea did some funny things. “We would go to a restaurant where there was a line of people waiting. He would give me a nod and say, ‘Tell them you’re a judge,'’’ to get special treatment, Lehrer said. “It was just funny.”

Because he had trouble speaking clearly, some had difficulty understanding Mr. O’Shea. But with patient listening came clarity, Lehrer said.

“He gave happiness and joy to his family and to all who came to know him,” Lehrer said. “He understood every human emotion, was always conscious of the feeling of others, and exemplified the best traits of humanity.”

Besides the Lehrers and his sister, he is survived by a brother, John, and several nieces and nephews.

A visitation will be held from noon to 1 p.m. Friday, Jan. 3, at the Frank C. Videon Funeral Home, Sproul and Lawrence Roads, Broomall. Interment will be private.

Memorial contributions may be made to Melmark, 2600 Wayland Rd., Berwyn, Pa. 19312.