Lillian Billie has been a fixture in Killeen schools for more than 40 years, but her path wasn’t completely smooth.
Billie retired from teaching in 2003 after 36 years. Five years later, she was back in the classroom at Fowler Elementary School, the same classroom, in fact, where she taught music for 33 years.
Health issues served as the catalyst for her retirement, Billie said. She had a hip replaced and subsequently lost 170 pounds.
“The music teacher left, and they asked me to come back,” she said of her return to Fowler.
Billie grew up in Corpus Christi with an appreciation for music.
“I sang at church all my life,” she said. She played piano, violin, saxophone and trombone in college at Prairie View A&M, graduating in 1966. Billie found working as an elementary school music teacher to be the perfect way to share her love of music with the younger generation.
“I love the little children to be able to put a foundation in their lives,” she said. “I love to see their faces when they enjoy what they’re doing.”
But her true love is directing choirs. She does so both at Fowler and at her church, Cathedral of Deliverance and Praise, Church of God and Christ in Harker Heights.
For Billie, music and worship have always been closely tied. Her husband, Rev. Edward Roy Billie, founded the church in 1969.
“She’s as close to an angel as you can get,” said friend Kathryn McPherson, whose daughters took piano lessons from Billie. Now, at 64, she is taking lessons, too.
“She’s been so patient with me. I’m beside myself with joy,” McPherson said.
Billie’s talent and gentle way with students has been far reaching in the community.
Jeanya Anglin, a former piano student of Billie’s, went on to major in music in college, taught for the Killeen Independent School District and now pursues a music ministry full time.
“I really love her zeal for music, and her involvement in the church,” Anglin said.
Billie served as an inspiration for Anglin, who appreciates the discipline her teacher instilled in her.
“She pushes you because she knows there’s so much in you,” Anglin said.
As for the future, Billie doesn’t know what it will hold.
Her school, Fowler Elementary, is closing at the end of the year. Billie will move to a new, unnamed school.
“I’m disappointed to see it close,” she said. “I’ll miss the children.”
Billie recently earned an honorary doctorate from Elbon Solutions College of Ministry in Apple Valley, Calif.
“I’ll keep going until they say I can’t go anymore,” she said.