William James “Billy” McNicholas, 1926- 2015

William “Billy” McNicholas, a longtime member and officer of the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 290 (and Local 235 before it merged) passed away Sept. 29 at age 89.

Billy McNicholas
Billy McNicholas

McNicholas joined Local 235 as an apprentice in 1946. He was active in the union, serving on its executive board, as vice president, and as a business agent. In 1966, he was appointed to the Steamfitters Joint Apprenticeship Committee and became its secretary-treasurer. He served on the committee for 20 years.

He was elected business agent of Local 235 in 1971. He retired as a business agent for Local 290 in May 1986. The UA chartered Local 290 in July 1985, when local unions throughout Oregon were merged.

William James McNicholas was born on April 12, 1926, in his family’s home on Northeast Thompson Street in Portland. He graduated from Jefferson High School in 1944, where he was an All-City second team football lineman

For a time, McNicholas worked on the docks as a longshoreman; his father and brother were members of Longshore Local 8. Later, he joined the U. S. Army and served as a staff sergeant in the China-Burma-lndia World War II war zone.

In 1946 he returned home and met his wife, Norma Houser. The two were married for 57 years and had three sons, five daughters, two foster children, nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Two sons are members of Local 290.

He was preceded in death by son Tony; daughter Joanna; and wife Norma. Tony died at age 15 in a 1969 fall off Cape Kiwanda on the Oregon Coast. McNicholas’ lobbying at the State Capitol in Salem resulted in the state designating the cape as a park and fencing it.

During his career, McNicholas served as president of the Portland Metal Trades Council and held the post of secretary-treasurer of the Oregon State Pipe Trades. After he retired, he served as president of the Local 290 Retirees for 12 years.

Gov. Tom McCall appointed him to the Oregon State Apprenticeship Center’s Advisory Committee. Additionally, he was vice president of the Columbia Power Trades Council.

McNicholas was honored with a lifetime membership in the United Association of Plumbers and Fitters in 1997.

At the time of his death, McNicholas was in his 40th year of service on the board of directors of the Union Labor Retirement Association, which oversees the construction and operation of the Union Manors retirement apartment complexes in the Portland-Vancouver metro area.

An Irish tenor, McNicholas sang with the Portland Symphonic Choir, as well as at many union events, including the annual holiday party sponsored by the Columbia Pacific and Oregon State building trades councils.

McNicholas took part in the Christian Family Movement at the St. Cecelia Catholic Church in Beaverton, helping in a program that brought families to the United States from Dutch Indonesia and helped them find homes and jobs.

Donations in his memory can be made to St. Cecilia’s Tuition Assistance Program.

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