Billie Sue Kerr, beloved mother and grandmother, died on Tuesday, March 13, 2018, in Spokane Wash.
Billie was born on Jan. 18, 1927, in Wilson, the youngest of four children, to Maud Frances (Clark) and Willis Marshall Potts. Her early life was spent in Wilson, where she was a Wilson High School band majorette and editor of the school paper. After graduation in 1945, she worked for the Health Department in Ardmore, having won the job by scoring highest on a test given to all high school seniors in a three-county area. She had guessed at all the answers and knew nothing. Fortunately, her boss was very patient and gave up trying to dictate letters and let her do pretty much whatever she wanted. She did eventually learn shorthand which she used to write notes her children couldn’t decipher. Then she met J C Kerr, home on leave from the Navy, at Christmas in 1945, and after a whirlwind courtship, married him on May 22, 1946. The marriage lasted 66 years until J C’s death on May 23, 2012.
Since J C was in submarines, they lived in New London, Conn., San Diego and Key West, Fla., and Billie learned to handle a household alone during various hurricanes (the boats always went out to sea in storms). Weather problems were solved when J C was selected by Admiral Rickover to attend the Naval Atomic Energy School in Pennsylvania. Then it was back and forth twice from Idaho Falls, Idaho to New London, Conn., where J C was on the first crew of the USS Nautilus. Amidst the traveling, they had twin daughters and then a son, and then a third daughter, and learned to survive on enlisted Navy pay. In 1959, J C retired from the Navy and accepted a job at NY Shipbuilding in Camden, New Jersey. J C left to start his new job, build a new house and (horrors) decorate it. Billie was left to sell the house, pack up and drive to New Jersey by herself with the kids in a huge Plymouth station wagon with enormous tail fins. Crowds gathered to watch her park it. She knew she could handle it. Hadn’t she dealt successfully with a basement full of sewage the day before the buyers closed on the house? Her biggest fear was acquiring a New Jersey accent.
New Jersey turned out to be a very nice and beautiful place to live. Billie was able to develop her thespian side through Little Theater—she was great in “Sorry, Wrong Number”—and to attend Broadway plays and summer stock musicals.
In 1965, J C accepted a job with Westinghouse International to build nuclear reactors around the world and that’s where the family went—around the world. Switzerland, Japan (twice), Yugoslavia, Brazil and Korea. This is when Billie showed what an amazing woman she was.
None of their residences were in populated areas, so she had to learn at least the rudiments of some very difficult languages and also the culture and customs of each place in order to create a real home-life for her family. She learned to drive their Gloria Super Prince the 3rd on the left side in Japan and to ignore its horn honking when turning right, and how to buy toilet paper in Italy when they lived in Yugoslavia. She learned flower arranging, Japanese brush painting, china painting, clogging and reading timetables in all languages. She wore a full-coverage swimsuit with pride in the midst of a sea of thongs on the Copacabana. And she became a power shopper in Hong Kong.
Finally, J C retired in 1983, and in 1991 he and Billie returned to Wilson, the town of their births and early lives. Billie was a member of the First Baptist Church of Wilson and felt her role as Sunday school teacher was one of the most important and satisfying of her life. She was also involved with the Wilson Historic Museum and was honored with volunteer of the year in 2012. She led water aerobics at the Wilson pool in the summer and ran five miles a day well into her 80s. Billie always took pride in looking her best and had beautiful clothes, many that she made herself. And she could never pass up a pair of white pants on sale.
Most of all, she loved her cats. Besides her feline friends through the years—Ralph, Sam, Otis, Bandit, Dingbat, Thumper, Pearlie Mae, Herbert Hoover and best of all cats, Bertha Marie—she loved her feral rescues. She fed, sheltered, doctored and neutered a raft of them who were all named and well-loved.
Billie was predeceased by her father on Aug. 19, 1959, and her mother on Sept. 13, 1966; her two brothers, D. C. “Don” Potts, Jan. 23, 1974, and Virgil Buren “Ben” Potts, Nov. 25, 1964; sister, Rudell Ethel Artherholt, Sept. 20, 2003; and youngest daughter, Elizabeth Ann Meininger, Sept. 13, 2010.
She is survived by three children, Jennye Lu Kerr of Rupert, Idaho, Sallye Sue (Tom) Prenger of Spokane, Wash., and William S. Kerr (Julie Reahard) of Jemez Springs, New Mexico.; six grandchildren, Dimity Prenger of Olympia, Wash., Andrew and Molly Prenger and Abigail (Chris) Weichman, all of Spokane, Wash., and Alex and Michelle Meininger and their father, Matt Meininger, all of Nampa, Idaho; and three great-grandchildren, Rubie, Gracie and Tyson Weichman, all of Spokane, Wash.
Billie will be coming home to Wilson for the last time later this spring for a memorial service with interment in the family plot at Hewitt Cemetery.