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Remembering William Clay, who lost his life on his birthday in the 2022 blizzard

An undated photo of William Clay.
William Payne
An undated photo of William Clay.

William Clay passed away on his birthday Saturday near his home in Buffalo. He’s one of the many individuals who lost their lives outside of their homes during the storm. While he is one of 34 victims we know of so far, his family wants him to be remembered for his life, not the way he passed.

Willie Payne said he and his brother William were two of their mother’s 12 kids. Willie grew up in the south with his grandmother and his younger brother, who he calls "Billy," grew up in Buffalo with his father.

While they didn’t grow up together, Willie said he and Billy became close as young adults when he moved back to Buffalo.

"I stayed down there until I got about in my 20s. I came back to Buffalo for a while, stayed here. I spent time with my brothers and sisters and everything, and then I got to know my family," Willie said.

Willie said when they were younger they’d get together on Fox Street to play basketball. As they got older, Billy, Willie, and Willie’s two kids would go on many outings together.

"Me and Billy used to go to the waterfront and that kind of stuff. We used to go to Six Flags Darien Lake, we used to go there a lot; supermarket, and that kind of stuff," Willie said.

Billy was also passionate about his work.

"He liked to work on cars and he had a car he used to work on all the time," Willie added.

Throughout the years he had been a truck driver, a forklift operator, and used to make car parts. Willie said his brother kept to himself, read the bible, and enjoyed R&B and rap music.

"He was a quiet person, he stayed to himself a lot, but he did help a lot of people," Willie said.

Willie said he had been through a lot in his life. Billy had two sons. One of his sons passed away while in college.

"He stayed off to himself, like a lot more. He wouldn't come around us and stuff," said Willie about the time after the death of Billy's son.

When their mother died, Billy’s depression worsened, but he and Willie reconnected and their relationship deepened. They would talk for hours at a time.

"I was very close to Billy, I talked to Billy just about every day. Every day Billy would call me on the phone and say he was going through some things," Willie said. "He would tell me on the phone like, 'You don't want what I got.' Just like that, I already knew what he was talking about."

Billy’s family isn’t sure why he was outside that day. Willie said sometimes his brother would go to Erie County Medical Center to get mental health care, and wonders if maybe he was trying to get to the hospital. It was a shock when his sister called him and told him Billy was found face down in the snow.

"She told me that they found Billy just like that. I said, 'What do you mean they found Billy?' She said, 'They found Billy out there in the snow,'" Willie recalled.  

It was Billy’s 56th birthday and Willie’s daughter’s 13th birthday. Now, they’re focused on giving Billy a proper burial but are working on raising the funds.

"Just pray for us right now," Willie said. "Help him get buried proper."

There’s been lots of misinformation online about who Billy was. But Willie said his brother was a good man, a father of two, who had been through a lot but was on the right path, and who his family is going to miss dearly.

"I'm gonna definitely miss him. Every morning I wake up and I'm gonna be thinking about Billy," said Willie.

To donate to the Clay family, you can visit their GoFundMe by clicking here.

Emyle Watkins is an investigative journalist covering disability for WBFO.