A master craftsman of sporting prose long after his days as the Island featherweight and lightweight champion were over, William “Billy the Kid” Pryor represents all that is noble about his chosen profession of boxing: Courage, sportsmanship, and above all grace under pressure.
Born October 14, 1929, in Philadelphia, William Pryor II was raised in the tough West End of Charlottetown, where his parents moved in 1933. He began attending Queen Street School in 1936, where he excelled in softball, basketball, baseball, and of course boxing.
Here too, in the West End, Bill’s lifelong love of horses was born: the family’s load of coal for the winter, their bottles of milk, even the police patrols transporting n’er-do-wells to and from the city jail, it seemed all deliveries “them times” were made with a horse of some shape or colour. One of the first questions his grade one teacher asked young Billy was, “Who made the world?” and the lad replied without a second thought, “Georgie Shepard and his horse and cart.” Needless to say, in Queen Street School, which was 99 percent Catholic, Billy’s answer was not well-received.
As a black youth growing up in a white neighbourhood, Bill Pryor’s first fight may have been in overcoming racial prejudice. In an age when only the fields of boxing and entertainment allowed a black man a starring role, Bill Pryor first started boxing in1946 with Young Tom McCluskey at Charlottetown’s old Rollaway Club, and in 1947 he and “Big Boy”Peterson left for Halifax and to train under Canada’s legendary fight trainer, “Spotty Talbot” for a short period, then back to McCluskey on PEI. A master boxer rather than a slugger, Bill Pryor was a crowd-pleaser in boxing during his career in the 1940s and ’50s.
Setting a terrific pace in the ring, and blessed with range, height, reach, and the perfect boxer’s physique, Bill was fast on his feet, and possessed even quicker hands.
As our very own Einstein of boxing history Wilf McCluskey put it, “Nobody could beat Billy to the punch. He had the ability to sense what his opponents were thinking.” In 85 amateur and professional bouts, Pryor never once had the ten-count tolled over him, and was only stopped once in his career –by a TKO –after he broke his right hand in the 1948 Olympic Games Boxing Trials in Moncton, against hometown favourite Johnny Harvey. Bill’s chief second, Charley Ryan, threw in the towel in the 4th round. Bill, Coby McCluskey and “Beau Jack” MacDonald all went to the Moncton Olympics Trials as part of Brigadier Bill Reid’s 1948 Abbies boxing team.
With time and experience, Bill Pryor was soon on the rise as one of Canada’s finest boxing writers, a columnist with Toronto Weekly, Dartmouth Free Press, Scotia Journalist, The Fourth Estate, and for the national publication, Boxing Illustrated as Canadian editor. He was fearlessly honest as he had been in the ring, pulling no punches. He was just as committed examining boxers, referees, judging and even boxing commissioners. He himself was a boxing referee, judge, and on the Halifax Boxing Commission, elected the first president of the Halifax Boxing Club. In 1976 he became an Honorary Member of the National Veteran Boxing Association.
For his lifetime achievement as boxer and sports writer, Bill Pryor was inducted into the Canadian Boxing Hall of Fame on October 29, 1976. That same year he was awarded the Tony Unitas Medal for his contribution to boxing, and was selected by the Canadian Amateur Boxing Association as “Canada’s Best Boxing Writer.” In his other field of expertise, Bill has had a distinguished career as chef manager or master chef in several leading metropolitan restaurants: for his excellence in the sales field for Dun & Bradstreet, the world’s largest business information service, he won Best Sales Representative in Canada Award in 1978.
The story of Bill Pryor illustrates how courage and style can be victorious. An athlete, builder, and journalist who has brought credit to race and his adopted province in the art of boxing, the PEI Sports Hall of Fame is proud to have inducted William “Billy the Kid” Pryor
Bill Pryor passed away in December 2011.
Updated: July 2018
File Contains: Photographs, citations, Boxing Hall Of Fame Plaque, medal, copy of “Boxing Illustrated”, induction file, autographed book, biographies, letter from William Pryor to Clair Sudsbury, and news clippings