Former Pool Hustler, 76, Gets Diploma
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
LAKE WORTH — Billy D. Armstrong quit high school in the 12th grade for a life of drinking, partying, hustling money, playing pool, and betting on dog racing. Later, he decided to go back to school and Tuesday night he will receive his GED from Lake Worth High School. Armstrong will turn 77 years old in November.
"I've had a hell of a life and I'm still in good shape. I can still run up and down those 12-foot ladders," said Armstrong, who started taking night classes at Lake Worth High School last year after working about 40 years with sheet metal. "I'd still be working if we had any work to do."
Armstrong said he dropped out of Sidney Lanier High School in Montgomery, Ala., in 1953.
"I was a pretty good pool player, so I was making pretty good money," Armstrong said. "I was drinking and partying, so I dropped out."
At 24, he became a sheet metal worker and eventually owned properties and businesses . He didn't feel like he needed a high school diploma. Armstrong said he learned about pressure points on the body in 1980s as his longtime girlfriend battled cancer. She passed away in 1989, Armstrong said, and years later at age 65 he decided to try to use what he had learned to become a professional masseuse.
Armstrong said he learned he needed a high school diploma to get a masseuse license in Florida and that got him thinking about going back to school. He tried the first time at age 69, but got sick and had to stop. He started again last year at age 75, going to class four nights a week at the high school with classmates who were all decades younger.
"I enjoyed it. That's all I can say," Armstrong said of his classes.
He said he was surprised when he went back because he passed almost all of his initial exams except for math, which he always thought he was good at. "I'd never had algebra or geometry and that nailed me."
His girlfriend Joan Picklesimer, a 79-year-old former estate manager and travel agent, said she and her son gave Armstrong a new computer when he started back to school and he has been tirelessly studying .
"He's done so well, and he is such a good person," Picklesimer said. "His writing is so good."
Picklesimer said her children are giving her a trip this fall to celebrate her upcoming 80th birthday and Armstrong will be coming along to celebrate his graduation. Armstrong said at one point he wanted to attend Palm Beach State College, but now he has no plans to go on to college.
"I think I've had enough school," Armstrong said. He said he is creating a Powerpoint computer presentation about his life he wants to present to younger people who have dropped out of high school to convince them to finish school.
Armstrong is not the oldest person ever to go back and finish school in Palm Beach County. In 2004, then-90-year-old Uceba Babson, a survivor of the 1928 hurricane that devastated her native Pahokee, received her GED.