Billie Page Odom was born Billie June Page on April 16, 1926, in Italy, Texas. Italy is a tiny town about an hour south of Dallas, full of green fields and trees. The eighth of nine children born to Rufa Emma (née Adair) and Collintine Page, Billie was old enough to remember the Depression and worked hard to provide for herself and her family all her life.
Billie began her career in the radio and film business in Houston, Texas, working for Gordon Barton McLendon (my husband’s namesake). Gordon is known for his pioneering work, and is credited with being the inventor of format radio (all news, easy listening, top forty, and so forth). Billie did everything from editing films and working as Gordon’s executive secretary to hosting her own radio spot. Her work eventually brought her into frequent contact with celebrities (including George Carlin, whom she and Gordon discovered), and migrated her to Hollywood, San Francisco, and eventually back to Dallas, Texas.
Billie married WWII Marine veteran Homer Hugh Odom sometime in 1958, and their son (my husband) Barton Page Odom was born March 23, 1960. After a few years Billie realized that life with Homer was not the best situation for her and a small child. In the early ‘60s she divorced him, and became a single mother, which was unfashionable at the time but which she managed wonderfully.
Billie was generous to friends, family, and charity, and despite working full time was closely involved in Bart’s youth and education. She loved word games (she was unequalled at Scrabble) and cards, particularly bridge. She had fabulous taste and a ready, sharp wit, tempered by innate kindness.
Perhaps because of his portrayal of strong, fabulous female forms, as well as his Art Deco sensibilities, Billie collected Erté serigraphs. And perhaps to keep her personal focus on her motherhood, she collected Madonnas in various forms.
I first knew Billie through my friend Cynthia, who had been close friends with her since the early 80s. I met her in the early 90s. In 1994, when I was considering joining the Episcopal Church (being interested in the priesthood and being female do not work in the Roman Catholic Church), Billie kindly went with me to the Foundations of Faith classes at the local parish, and gave me a copy of the Book of Common Prayer. She had inscribed it herself, a difficult thing for her at this point, since she had grappled with crippling rheumatoid arthritis since her early 40s.
Billie passed away of hospital pneumonia on May 16, 2002. We miss her keenly, but are grateful to have known her. I am particularly grateful to her for giving me a husband that respects and loves strong women.
*Mildred, Jewel, Juana, Marguerite, Vivian, Mary, Carl, Billie, and Ray