Billie Jean Townsend, 88, of Brentwood, passed away on December 6, 2018, from the effects of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
She was preceded in death by her husband, The Rev. Dr. James Everett Townsend. She is survived by three sons: James Kenneth, of Brentwood Tennessee; David Thayne
(Judy), of Aurora Illinois; Jay Everett (Mary), of Annandale Virginia; and one daughter: Twila Jean Zirakzadeh (Ardy), of Louisville Colorado; plus, seven grandchildren (David Craig, Rachel, Alice, Sabrina, Donovan, Joel, Caitlin, and Ellie), and four great-grandchildren.
Billie Jean was born August 6, 1930 in Edwardsville Illinois. She was the sister of Kay Greene, of Maryville Illinois, and the late Betty Phillips. Her parents were the late Denver B. and Eva Goodwin of Granite City, Illinois. Billie Jean was her husband Jim’s partner in Christian ministry for more than 50 years. She was the real power behind the throne. During Jim’s 26 years of service as a United States Air Force chaplain, Billie Jean raised her four children alone when Jim served tours of duty in Korea and Vietnam. She also was a master packer-and-mover, having relocated to nine states and Europe. No matter where she was planted, she bloomed. She considered Jim’s assignment as chief chaplain at the United States Air Force Academy her happiest years as a military spouse. After Jim retired as a highly-decorated colonel from the USAF in 1982, and was appointed to the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry in Nashville, she continued traveling with him to every continent except Antarctica for another 16 years.
Billie Jean possessed extraordinary intelligence and incredible gifts: a talented artist who sketched in chalks and pencil; and a master seamstress who transformed bolts of fabric, spools of colorful thread, buttons, and zippers, into awe-inspiring elegant creations. She collected artworks, gracing her home with paintings, sculptures, and works in many media. She loved music, especially classical music and choirs, and her soprano voice was clear as a bell until the end of her life. She knew the scores of many Broadway musicals, yet had favorite musicians in many genres.
Most important to her were the songs of Cardinals and other birds who visited her backyard feeders, the concert of chirps and peeps that thrilled her soul. She also heard in her lifetime whales in the Atlantic Ocean, the howls of wild animals in Africa and Asia, and the yips and meows of family dogs and cats. (Not to mention caring for her children’s many turtles, lizards, mice, and five aquariums!)
Billie Jean was a masterly chef who prepared thousands of mouth-watering meals that nourished her family, but also countless friends, church members, and military, religious, and political dignitaries from around the world. Herself an adventurous diner, she sampled cuisines from all types of cultures, and duplicated some of those recipes in her kitchen. Most of all, she loved Southern cooking, the supreme comfort food to her tastes. She could converse about everything under the sun. She never stopped reading books, and read from three to five hours daily, novels and biographies. She followed politics, and watched television news programs daily, and read numerous newspapers and magazines. She was a master of Sudoku and word jumble puzzles; and, watched her “stories,” British comedies and dramas broadcast weekends on NPT.
Billie Jean also worked in the insurance and real estate industries, and was one of the first key punch operators in the early years of computers, who also taught key punching at a business school.
To the final days before her sudden death, Billie Jean’s mind was clear and her faith was strong, that when she learned she would not survive the cancer that took her life, she faced it immediately and accepted it. Even as her body shut down, and she gradually lost the ability to speak, she knew she was loved, and she loved her family and friends back until her last breath. She survived cancer three times, and made a new life for herself after Jim’s death, because of her fierce and undying love for him and his legacy, and for her four children. She was an active member of Bethlehem United Methodist Church in Franklin, where her banners and choir robe still hang. But her love was simply for the family of humankind, for gifting everyone she met with kindness, compassion, and generosity.
She lived a life of self-sacrifice, of servanthood. Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but looking outward together in the same direction.
Billie Jean and Jim were one of the greatest love stories in their more than 50 years together. They are now looking outward again in the same
A memorial service was conducted by her son, the Rev. Kenneth Townsend, and the Rev. David Bradley on Saturday, December 8, at Bethlehem United Methodist Church in Franklin. Burial is at Arlington National Cemetery, Washington, D.C. in 2019.
The family requests that memorial contributions be directed to: Bethlehem United Methodist Church, James E. Townsend Memorial Scholarship Fund, 2419 Bethlehem Loop Road, Franklin TN 37069.