Since their 1972 inception, the New York Islanders have played 1,481 regular season games inside the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Over those 37 years, many things have changed, but Bill Hayes’ seat, located in section 309, in row B, seat 11 has remained static. Since game one on October 7, 1972, Bill Hayes sat in that seat and watched his favorite team – only missing four games due to illness. No matter the outcome, he was there, cheering, scribbling meticulous game details, and enjoying each contest.
“His love for the game was truly extraordinary,” said Gary Harding, former President of the Islanders Booster Club. “You would get him started talking about hockey and he could just recall stories upon stories upon stories.”
On Thursday, July 29, Bill Hayes lost his battle with cancer. As one of the most beloved Islanders fans, known to most people as ‘Mr. Bill’, he will surely be missed by everyone at the Coliseum. On game days, he would arrive at the barn hours before other fans to do his traditional walk around the concourse to greet all of the employees.
“He was a huge fan. I think the thing that everybody - from employees in the building to the Islanders - got a kick out of, is that for every game, he was at the Coliseum before every other fan and he went out of his way to say hello to everybody,” said Steve Beisel, Senior Sales Executive. “I think that’s the thing that people will remember most about Mr. Hayes.”
Usually dressing in a blazer, collared shirt and baseball cap, Mr. Bill was an old-fashioned gentleman who was loved by everyone who had the opportunity to meet him. With his traditional values, he never owned a television set, choosing to listen to all away games on his radio.
But really, it was his character that made the 85-year-old from Merrick, by way of Brooklyn, a special person.
“He would always wear some sort of baseball cap, whether it was an Islanders cap or something else and he would always do that old-time tip of the cap and say, ‘have a nice day.’ That was just Bill’s way,” Harding said. “He always wished everybody a nice day.”
Over the past 37 years, he has become an Islanders icon and Mr. Bill will definitely be missed by all the people that have got to know him.
“He was a fixture around the Coliseum. It wasn’t game day until you got a greeting from Mr. Hayes. He always went around and said hello to all the employees. He was just part of the foundation,” said Kerry Cornils, Ticket Services and Box Office Manager. “He was a comfort. We knew win, lose or tie that Mr. Hayes would always be there and the Islanders would always show up. He was just that kind of staple.”
For years, Mr. Bill would stand outside of Gate One waiting for a chance to say hello to the players. A few weeks ago, Islanders legend Bob Nystrom stopped at the nursing home to say hello to Bill, a moment in his life that meant a lot to him. Islanders General Manager Garth Snow and his son also stopped in to see Mr. Bill and presented to him an Islanders jersey, signed by all the players.
“All the players knew Bill. He would tell them to keep skating,” Harding said. “As a matter of fact, years ago, he had t-shirts made up that said ‘keep skating’ and he gave them to the guys. He also had pens made up, ballpoint pens, that said ‘keep skating’ on them and actually a picture of him at the top. He did this out of his own generosity, out of his own pocket. That was just his way of telling the guys he was supporting them and giving them encouragement to keep going.”
But his generosity didn’t stop there. Mr. Bill helped found the Islanders Booster Club and served as the Novelties director for close to 20 years. He was extremely charitable. Over the years, he collected a lot of unique memorabilia, but instead of keeping things for himself, he donated them to the Islanders Booster Club so they could auction off the items for charity.
“When we’d have a booster club meeting, he would always come by and bring a t-shirt, a pennant, a puck, something for us to raffle off to our charities,” Harding said about his friend of more than 20 years. “He was always giving us something no matter what. Anything he could do to help us raise money for our charities, he was always there. He was the kind of person that would give you his shirt off of his back.”
A wonderful man that meant so much to the Islanders community, continued to share his favorite hockey memories and stories about his beloved Islanders.
“It was amazing the stories he was telling me even as recent as a couple of weeks ago, just talking about a couple of the old time games that he would go see,” Harding said. “He would see double headers for 25 cents at the Garden in the ‘40s. It was so nice to hear the way he recollected those stories and the enjoyment he got out of it.”
Bill Hayes leaves behind his brother Edward Hayes and his wife Theodora Hayes; his nephew Edward Hayes Jr. and his wife Giscla. Also, his nieces, Doris Quitilian, Susan Johnson and her husband Walter; Nancy Scott and her husband Bruce, and Barbara Hayes. Bill will also be missed by his many great-nieces and nephews, his beloved friends at the Islanders Booster Club including Gary and Claire Harding and all the friends he’s met over the years as an Islanders season ticket holder, as well as Fran Miller and all his friends at the Meadow’s at Mitchell Field in East Meadow where he resided for the last 13 years.