When Billy Grey was a 15-year-old junior at Loudoun Valley High School in 1989, a swimming pool accident severed his spinal cord, rendering him a quadriplegic. His friends and family immediately rallied around him.
One of his closest friends, Shannon Roberts, was a freshman at the time. Like a lot of high school pals, they parted ways after Billy graduated. But Shannon says she always felt they’d end up together. Years passed, and when her first marriage came to a close, she and Billy renewed their friendship.
They became a couple, and, 10 years later, on the exact date Billy was paralyzed, they married.
“We wanted that bad day to be replaced with a good one,” Shannon said.
They built a house that accommodated Billy’s needs. They held down good jobs, raised Shannon’s daughter from her previous marriage, Grace (now 17 and a junior at Loudoun Valley), and although their years together were not without challenges, they built a happy, comfortable life, sinking roots in the Purcellville community.
And their community adores them back.
Talk to Billy’s friends and you hear the same thing: He’s relentlessly positive, never complains, and is always smiling. Shannon? Same thing.
But, last February, misfortune struck again.
While on a trip with friends to visit the Florida Keys to celebrate Shannon’s 40th birthday, Billy was injured while being transferred from one airport wheelchair to another on the couple’s trip home. He suffered a bad leg fracture, a dislocated hip, and an injured lung. But because of his lower extremity paralysis, he was initially unaware of the severity of his injuries.
The next morning the family realized something was wrong. When paramedics arrived, they were concerned about Billy’s weakened vitals. They rushed him to Inova Loudoun Hospital. By the next day, his condition worsened. He was put on life support, where he remained for 24 days.
Billy, 42, was eventually moved to the University of Virginia hospital system in Charlottesville to stabilize his condition. By the time of his release, he had spent 66 days in hospital intensive care units.
Shannon, 40, remained at his side every day and night of his ordeal.
Although his health has improved in recent weeks, Billy faces months, if not years, of surgery, additional treatment and therapy.
True to his reputation for positivity, Billy said, “I’m not out of the woods yet, but I’m feeling much better.”
As usual with these kinds of catastrophic health scare stories, the family, on top of fighting around the clock to get Billy physically well, also has endured constant battles with insurance companies. Between that struggle and the loss of the couple’s wages, uncovered medical expenses, and piling up bills, the financial impact of Billy’s injuries rapidly escalated.
But just as they did when Billy was in high school, the Purcellville community responded with resolve and commitment to help ease the family’s mounting burdens.
Just a couple of weeks after his hospitalization, the owners of Purcellville’s Old 690 Brewing Company—Ronda and Mark Powell, and Tammi and Darren Gryniuk (all close friends of the Greys)—began brainstorming about how to best help the family. After talking it over with a group of mutual friends and fellow business owners, they hit on the idea of holding a beer festival, tapping into the newly emerging, but rapidly growing and wildly popular craft beer community.
They approached the town, which immediately supported the idea—Mayor Kwasi Fraser even suggested they add a barbecue competition (a suggestion they immediately adopted)—and chose Fireman’s Field as the location for the festival.
“The town has been supportive from the beginning. They’ve been fabulous,” Ronda Powell said. “Once we got approval for everything, the event just kept growing. Now, in addition to fantastic local beers, we also have great food options and musical entertainment.”
Billy’s Beer & BBQ Festival will be held on Saturday, June 4, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. It will feature the craft beer offerings of 19 area breweries, as well as a variety of culinary options from several restaurants and food trucks. The barbecue competition will pit local establishments—Smokin’ Willy, ResQ BBQ, Magnolia’s at the Mill, Hill High Bakery & BBQ, and IJ Cann’s—against each other. Live music from well-known local musicians will also be heard throughout the day.
Powell says everyone participating was in agreement about one thing: All proceeds will go directly to the Grey family.
“It’s really remarkable how the town and the beer community came together. They didn’t hesitate to participate and kick in,” Powell said. She said breweries are charging a pittance for kegs of beer. Food vendors are donating a percentage of sales. Musicians are playing for free.
Patrons have several ticket options, including a VIP choice (which allows entrance an hour earlier, among other perks), but everyone will receive a commemorative glass with unlimited tastings from area breweries.
Shannon and Billy Grey don’t hesitate to say how moved they are by the support.
“It’s kind of weird to be out around town and see so many posters and fliers for Billy’s event. We’ve always been used to giving back to the community and now we’re in the position of needing help ourselves,” Shannon said. “We so appreciate the support, especially from the Old 690 crew, but to so many others too. It’s meant the world to us.”
“It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed by it all,” Billy said. “We’re truly grateful to everyone.”
Although his health dictates how long he can stay out, Billy says he’ll be at the event. He looks forward to seeing old friends, as well as meeting new ones.
“I have a lot of catching up to do,” he said.
To learn more about Billy’s Beer & BBQ Festival, or to buy tickets, visit www.old690.com and click on the event tab.