HSU Great Billie Martin Dies

Billie Martin, who had longtime, deep ties to Hardin-Simmons University, died March 15. A family graveside was scheduled for Saturday, March 26, at Elliott-Hamil Garden of Memories, followed by a Celebration of Life in Elliott-Hamil Funeral Homes’ Chapel of Faith 5701 Hwy. 277 S. with Pastor Bill Spencer officiating.

Billie Martin

The following obituary is from the Elliott-Hamil Funeral Home website:

Billie was born to William Lloyd and Jon Nadine Shirley in Anson, Texas on September 27, 1925. She was the middle child with Henry and Doris who were older and Lois and Dick who were younger than her. They grew up on a cotton farm where the work was very hard, but the family was happy, and the children were full of life. Billie’s interest in physical activity began early. She was a bit of a tomboy, climbing trees and riding horses. Her mother played tennis as a student at Hardin Simmons University (HSU) so it was natural that the family played tennis on a grass court in the back pasture. That sparked her lifelong love of tennis. Billie attended Anson public schools from the first grade through high school. She was active in high school, lettering in volleyball and acting in her senior play “Mr. and Mrs. America” and was named Best All-Round Girl in her Senior Class.

Billie had planned to work and attend Hardin Simmons University in the fall of 1943, but due to her mother’s death, she returned home to help her family until the fall of 1944. She then attended HSU and graduated in 1948 with a degree in Physical Education. Her Senior year she was nominated for University Queen and was selected Bronco Sweetheart. Upon graduation, she moved to Lamesa, Texas, teaching High School, coaching Volleyball and Basketball and sponsoring the Pep Squad.

After four years in Lamesa, Billie returned to HSU as a Physical Education teacher and earned her Masters of Education degree in 1954. She taught at Hardin Simmons University for 41 years retiring in 1993. During her career, she also attended school in both Canada and Norway and was granted a leave of absence for the 1963-64 school year to teach in Japan. She was the faculty sponsor of the Tri Phi Social Club and the Cowgirls organization. Billie blazed new trails by being the first female head of the Physical Education Department and the first female President of the Faculty in 1978. In 1981, she was chosen to be part of a study tour of China, making a comparative study of Physical Education in China and North America. Billie served as president of the HSU Round Table service organization and president of University Women. She was named Faculty Member of the year in 1993 and Former Faculty Member of the Year in 1998. After retirement, she served with her late husband as co-president of the HSU Former Faculty, Staff, and Administration Fellowship.

Billie received the Keeter Alumni Service award in 2011 which is presented to former students who have contributed the most in their field of endeavor towards the betterment of HSU. Billie also received the HSU Round Table Virtue Award for exhibiting exemplary leadership and representing Christian values and beliefs foundational to HSU. In October 2021, Billie was thrilled to attend the dedication of the Martin Apartment Building on the HSU Campus which was named for Billie and J.G. Martin. Additionally, Billie remained active in her church and taught adult Sunday class for many years.

Billie married J.G. Martin November 20, 1970 at University Baptist Church in Abilene, where Billie was a member and J.G. was the Minister of Music. J.G. also taught at HSU where he was the Head of the Department of Music Education and Church Music. Before marrying J.G., Billie had traveled to many parts of the world and the traveling continued after their marriage. Some of the places they visited included China, Russia, England, France, Taiwan, Korea, and Africa. Billie also enjoyed supporting J.G. in his efforts leading the HSU “Singers-HO” group which performed worldwide as part of the USO and later the community choir, Celebration Singers, which entertained Abilene audiences and continues to perform to this day.

Family was very important to Billie. She was always ready with something fun to do and became her nieces’ and nephews’ “favorite” aunt. Whenever they visited Abilene, she would include them in the fun physical education activities that she was teaching her college students, whether it was swimming, bowling, or playing badminton. Little did they realize at the time, that she was allowing her Elementary Education students to get some real-life experience dealing with young people! She never missed a Thanksgiving family get together or a Memorial Day reunion at Lake Murray, Oklahoma. She taught a year in Japan where her sister, Doris and her husband, Dub Jackson were missionaries. This allowed her to spend a great deal of time with all the Jackson children that were not able to be with the rest of the family for holidays. She bragged on her family and her family thought the world of her!

She is survived by her brother, Richard Shirley of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, eight nieces and nephews, 22 grand nieces and nephews and many great grand nieces and nephews. The family would like to recognize Billie’s good friends, Bennie Rodgers and Jo Ann Dennis, for their steadfast friendship; and also, the Celebration Singers, who kept in contact with Billie and continued to include her in activities after J.G.’s death. The family also thanks the many loving caregivers who helped Billie over the past year.

Memorials may be made to Hardin Simmons University for the “Dr. J.G. and Billie Martin Endowed Music Scholarship”, care of the HSU Advancement Office, Box 16100, Abilene, Tx 79698. https://connectnow.hsutx.edu/register/everygiftmatters

Fond memories and expressions of sympathy may be shared at www.elliott-hamil.com for the family.

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