This web page celebrates the life of one of God's special agents who
took on her final asignment earlier than her friends and family expected.
Billie Jean, Needlepoint
Most of this page is written in "first person" by a guy who grew up in Missouri and was blessed in marriage to Billie Jean Dunnam.
Billie Jean was born to Theodore Roosevelt Dunnam and Bessie Rae (Hutto) Dunnam in February 1940 in Waynesboro, MS. She and her younger sister, Dora Lene, grew up in Wayne County, MS. As youngsters they used to ride their father's horse (both at once) to neighbor's homes to deliver milk. They are graduates of the School system in Clara, MS.
In High School Billie Jean was a member of a close-knit trio comprised of herself, Anita Trigg, and Rebecca Bunch. (The Three Musketeers)
Billie Jean majored in biology at William Carey College in Hattiesburg, MS. (Dora Lene studied nursing, also in Hattiesburg.) According to notes written by her fellow students in her 1962 Crusader yearbook she was known affectionately by some as "Jelly Bean," for having "plenty of brains" and as one "having the beauty of Christ living in her." She was a member of Alpha Lambda and the Chi Beta Phi National Science Honary. Her mentor in biology was Mr. Roy Hood, MA. She graduated from William Carey in 1962. She visited with Mr. Hood and his wife, in Hattiesburg, MS, at least yearly (with one unavoidable exception), throughout the rest of her life.
From 1962 to 1967 she taught Science at Northwest Junior High School in Meridian, MS. In the winter of 1965/1966 she did graduate work in Secondary Education at the Meridian campus of Southern Mississippi University and in the winter of 1966 and spring of 1967 she continued graduate work in Secondary Education at Livingston State College in Livingston, AL.
I met Billie Jean in the spring of 1967 in a Baptist Training Union class at 15th Avenue Baptist Church in Meridian, MS. That was when I was undergoing intermediate flight training at Naval Auxilliary Air Station Meridian.
To her students I was "Bob Navy Base." We became engaged in July that year and were married at Water Oak Baptist Church in Wayne County, MS on September 2nd. William (Bill) Sellers officiated. We "took up residence" in Kingsville, TX where I was completing the final phase of my flight training.
Right after we got Billie Jean installed at Kingsville, hurricane Buelah passed through and the Navy had us fly most of our airplanes (hurrivac) to other places. That left Billie Jean and the other wives and families to contend with flood waters and scary creatures. Navy Chaplain Dodson and his wife kept things on an even keel.
From 1968 to 1971 we resided in San Diego, CA where I was initially sent to transition to the F-8 Crusader Jet. We joined the First Southern Baptist Church of Clairemont, for which Billie Jean came to be church secretary. We were members of an extended church "family" (Not really a "clique." Well maybe.) which, even though many members (mostly military) transferred to distant parts of the country, held reunions more or less annually, up through the mid 1980's.
Based on some close calls (my fault) I came to realize that I wasn't really "cut out" to be be a Navy pilot. I turned in my wings and migrated into electronics related billets. My first assignment in that arena was at Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego, so we stayed in the same apartment complex.
During my one year tour in South Viet Nam, Billie Jean and Helen Randolph, wife of Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant L.J. (Randy) Randolph, joined forces at our San Diego home until their men returned. (The Randolphs were part of our church "extended family.") The airport picture was made during my "mid-tour" R&R visit with Billie Jean in Hawaii. We took in a Sea Life Park performance, drove through the interior of the extinct volcano near Wakiki and spent three days on the Big Island.
From 1971-1973 we were located at Naval Air Station Point Mugu, CA. We were members of First Southern Baptist Church of Oxnard, CA, and our first child, Eric, was born at the Hospital at the Port Hueneme Naval Base.
We spent a year and a half at Naval Air Station Agana, Guam. While there, we were members of the Southern Baptist Church of Tamuning. One family from our San Diego "extended family," Ted and Judy Lane, and their children, Gina and Eric, located to the island while we were there. (Ted worked as an air traffic controller for the Federal Avation Administration.
While on Guam, we only got to attend one Typhoon, and departed just 12 hours before the biggest earthquake to hit the place in 30 years. The night before we left, Eric (age 3) had, what must have seemed, to him, to be a "near death" experience. From underwater, in our hotel swimming pool, I saw him walk down some steps into water that was over his head. I could see his arms extended horizontally and wide eyed perplexity on his face. I got to him in about five seconds and everything turned out OK. Even so, I sensed that, when the time came, he put off being baptised a long time because of that experience.
My last year with Billie Jean was in San Antonio, TX where I was working in a Joint Services command at Kelly Air Force Base. We were members of Castle Hills Baptist Church. (Friends of ours had strongly recommended the church before we ever got there.) In November 1976 our second child, Alison, was born at USAF Hospital Wilford Hall. Complications, not directly related to child birth, led to Billie Jean's death on the following day. (She was 36 years old but she looked much younger. There is even evidence that the hospital's staff thought that she was, in fact, only 27.)
Ted Lane (now back from Guam and living near Oklahoma City, OK) flew with me from Oklahoma to Mississippi for Billie Jean's funeral. Eric stayed with Ted's family, and Alison (less than a week old) was in the care of friends from our "Castle Hills" Sunday School class.
The day before Ted and I flew out for the funeral, Eric, who had never seen real snow, asked if he was going to see some in while he was there. (The forecast probability for that was good.) I offered the idea (to the Lanes) that there might be a "special" snow for Eric during the hour of the funeral. (Reading between the lines is permitted.)
Ted and I were joined in Mississippi by Leroy Erskine and L.J. Randolph (members of the San Diego "extended family") Billie Jean's funeral service was held at Freeman Funeral Home Chapel in Waynesboro. Roy Hood arrived at the funeral chapel, in a driving rain, just before the service began, and I was honored to have him sit with "family."
Just after the service, and prior to the motorcade to the cemetery, I called Judy Lane and asked, "Did it snow between 2:00 and 3:00 PM" (the time of the funeral). She responded, "Well, yes, it did, but then there's the time zone difference." But ..... Oklahoma and Mississippi are in the same time zone!
Interment was at White House Cemetery. It was raining so hard on the way to the cemetery that it was almost impossible to drive. To me, it was like the heavens themselves were crying.
On the day after Billie Jean's funeral, while fixing a bathroom fixture at the Dunnam's place, we discovered that Ted's first and second names were the same as Billie Jean's dad, "Theodore Roosevelt."
In 1978, after finishing up my final year in the Navy, Eric, Alison and I relocated to the Dunnams home in Wayne County, MS. I wanted the children to have some "on station" time with their maternal grandparents.
In the fall of of 1978 Eric and I re-located (mostly) to Starkville, MS, where I was a student at Mississippi State University, and Starkville is sort of mid-way between Billie Jean's folks and my folks in Missouri. (Eric and I were generally at the Dunnam's on weekends.) Alison joined us in Starkville when she came to be of school age. Eric and Alison attended and graduated from the Starkville Public School system. Both graduated from Mississippi State University (MSU), where they majored in communications and both served as DJ's for the MSU radio station. Eric worked as a "live" DJ (Eric Winston) for the Sunny 93 FM station in Tupelo, MS and met his "wife to be," Ashley Holloway.
In 1993 I married Miss Myra Jane DaVault (also a teacher, and from the same home town in Missouri as for me). (We had dated back in college days.) We are residing in Starkville, MS.
Billie Jean's parents and her sister, Dora Lene, have now passed away. Dora Lene is survived by her husband, Terrell Graham, and their daughter, Amy Lynn Graham.
Billie Jean was the first member of our San Diego "extended family" to pass away. Since then four more "members" have died: Robert (Bob) Punches, USN (San Diego, CA), Mary Alice Erskine (Shreveport, LA), Wayne Shipman, USCG (Florida) and James (Jim) Adams, Brown-Teledyne, (Huntsville, AL).
As of this writing (2011), Eric and his wife, Ashley, are residing in West Virgina. Ashley is a Doctor of Osteopathy and Eric works in journalism, stage writing, and internet site design. Alison, who one day will rule the world, currently lives in the great state of Texas and works in massage therapy for a well known health spa on a bank of the Colorado River.
In 1977, some six months after Billie Jean's death, the Technical Librarian where I worked felt that I should contact the widow of an Air Force captain who had died a year or so before. The lady and I did come to meet but it was my impression that my "new acquaintance" was "trapped" in the "denial phase" of grieving and that spending time with me (a potential husband) was problematic to her. My being Baptist and her being Catholic didn't help either. My "hitting the road" seemed to be the "only viable option" to her. But, then, she was a member of a ladies bible study group and took turns sharing rides to the meetings with another group member. (That other lady was the wife of a local Baptist minister.) In discussing the "widower" from San Antonio, and the circumstances surrounding his wife's death, something rang a bell in the friend's head.
"Billie Jean Dunnam."
"She was my roommate at William Carey!"
Chi Beta Phi
National Science Honorary
William Carey College 1962
Billie Jean pinning Bob's wings
NAAS Kingsville, TX Nov '67
Billie Jean - Hawaii 1971
For more information, contact: Bob Fritzius at: email@example.com
Installed 23 Jul 2011. Latest Update 26 Nov 2016.