FALLS CHURCH, VA. - Billy DePriest, 97, formerly of Cleveland County, died peacefully on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013, in Falls Church, Va.
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Mr. DePriest was the son of William Wesley and Minnie Jane DePriest and the youngest of eight children that grew up during World War I and the Depression.
He was the husband of Eugenia Scruggs DePriest and the father of Mike, Steve, and Gregory.
Mr. DePriest served in the Navy during World War II and his ship, the USS Rowan, was sunk in the Mediterranean on Sept. 10, 1943. He was one of 70 survivors out of 273 crewmen and seldom spoke of the experience.
During his 20 years in the Navy, he was awarded the Purple Heart, the EAME Campaign Medal with three Bronze Service Stars, the American Theater Campaign Medal and the Good Conduct Medal.
Following his retirement from the military, he joined Bell Labs in 1956, the same year John Bardeen, William Shockley, and Walter Brattain received the Nobel Prize for the invention of the transistor at the storied institution.
Over the next 20 years he took great pride in working for a key division of AT&T and participated in a variety of projects, including the laying of trans-Atlantic undersea cables.
Mr. DePriest retired from Bell Labs in 1977 and relocated to his native Cleveland County, where he lived until 2011.
During his retirement, he renewed friendships, joined Sandy Plains Baptist Church, restored Palmer House, planted 4000 pine seedlings in his front yard, read extensively, served as a judge at the Cleveland County Fair, collected antiques, and delighted in buying Ford pickups – he once admired a Dodge Ram but that was as far as it went.
It's hard to separate his remarkable story from that of his family. They grew up in tough times, were confronted by global disasters, and saw no obstacle that could not be overcome through perseverance and hard work. DePriest and his family were realistic and optimistic through it all.
Mr. DePriest is survived by his son, Gregory; five grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.
His ashes will be interred at Calvary Baptist Church in Rutherfordton, at a date to be determined.
Published in Shelby Star on Dec. 15, 2013