The world is a little less bright without Clay Fillis in it. But thanks to his family and the legacy he left behind, his home will shine as brightly as ever this Christmas season.
Fillis was the man behind one of Canby’s most well-known holiday light shows, which he built at his home each year and even set to music.
When he died of sudden cardiac arrest back in March, some presumed the display might have passed with him. But his family was determined to bring a little light to this corner of the world — at a time when so many need it.
“It took an army to set up what it took one man weeks to do,” his daughter, Kayla Spicer, said on Facebook. “2020 may look a lot different from last year but we are hoping to bring a little joy to our amazing community.”
Her father, a 20-year veteran of the United States Army and Army Reserve, loved Christmas — especially the lights.
“My dad loved bringing joy to other people,” Spicer told The Canby Current. “He loved Disneyland, especially the magic of it. Christmas lights were always a big deal at our house growing up.”
When Fillis and his wife, Sherrie, moved to town in 2014 to be closer to grandkids, he saw the perfect opportunity to combine his love of Christmas lights and music to “create a little magic of his own,” Spicer said.
“Music was also a passion of his,” she explained. “He started playing brass instruments in grade school. He carried that love through high school, played in small ensembles at church and taught his daughter and son to love it too.”
Fillis, who left the Army at the rank of master sergeant, had also played tuba in the military band. He had also spent 35 years working for Fred Meyer/Kroger, starting as a bagger and working his way up to database administrator.
Spicer believed he drew inspiration for the light display from the 1989 holiday classic National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Disneyland and other displays he had seen.
“He loved when people would stop to say how excited they were when he was setting it all up,” she said. “If people walked by and asked, he would turn on his speakers loud since they didn’t have a car radio.”
Some of her favorite memories are of the family standing outside watching the show after they had (finally) finished getting them up.
“When we got too cold, we would go inside and have hot chocolate,” she said. “Dad always lit up when he talked about his lights. He wanted to make them bigger and better every year.”
One year, a little girl left a thank you card, along with $10 for the electricity bill, in her parents’ mailbox. They were “so touched,” Spicer remembered. They used the money to buy an inflatable nativity scene that is now one of the display’s centerpieces.
Her father’s passing was “very unexpected.” He worked out at a Crossfit gym almost daily, and was healthy and fit.
“He was at home; he didn’t feel anything,” Spicer said. “He was happy, though. Dad was blessed to have spent time with all of his family and friends in the months before he passed. He loved teaching kids and having grandkids was the best thing that ever happened to him. He learned to enjoy life more.”
It was never a question that the family would continue Fillis’ most beloved Christmas tradition — but that doesn’t mean it was easy.
“It’s been a big learning curve for all of us,” said Spicer, who lives with her husband and children a few blocks away from her parents. “No one really knew how to hook up the lights to the controllers or run the computer program. I think we’ve almost got it figured out.”
The show will go on, starting Thanksgiving night at the Fillis home on Northeast 10th Avenue and Ivy Street. It will run nightly 5 to 9 p.m. till the end of December.
To get the full effect, tune your car radio to 105.7FM. Spicer said a new song was added to the show this year in honor and memory of her dad.
Update: A few community members who were touched by this story banded together to make a sign in Clay Fillis’ memory. Canby Signs & Graphics designed and produced the sign, and it was presented to the family on Nov. 30.