Cover photo for Billie Jean Peckham's Obituary
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Billie Jean Peckham

November 20, 1930 — May 12, 2024

Fort Worth

Billie Jean Peckham

Billie Jean Peckham, a career educator, passed away at age 93 on Mother’s Day, May 12, after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s.

She was born Billie Jean Lambert on November 20, 1930, in Bonnerdale, Arkansas. The birth took place in the family home. But the baby girl had no time to take stock of her surroundings before she and her mother headed back to their second home in the oil fields of El Dorado. Her father, Verner Lambert, had found work there in the early 1920s and was able to provide for his family as the country fell into depression. But the oil fields that brought good fortune also brought tragedy when her father lost his leg in a drilling accident. The family returned to Bonnerdale, a community formed around a white-frame Seventh-day Adventist church. Billie walked a mile up the dirt road with her twin sisters to attend a two-room church school.

She always felt strong ties to her family home and her flock of good-humored relatives. It was her desire for a Christian education that took her away from Bonnerdale. After graduating from 8th grade, she went to Jefferson Academy in Texas, then on to Madison College in Tennessee. Barely into her 20s, she took her first teaching job in Texarkana. At a teachers’ institute in Keene, Texas, she met a teacher from Little Rock named Dan Peckham. Dan thought she was “very lovely” and looked for a way to see her again. Soon he arranged a day of teacher observation at another school in Texarkana. He arrived in style in a chartreuse and black Ford Crestliner that caused a stir among her students. His car was flashy, but he was a shy farm boy from Nebraska, and it took a while for him to work up his nerve to propose. 

Billie refused his offer because she was weighing proposals from two other young men. After much prayerful consideration, she grew sure of her love for Dan and they were married in June 1952. They rushed back from their honeymoon at Niagara Falls so that Dan could be inducted into the army. He served in Camp Pickett in Virginia until after the Korean War ended. 

Billie had agreed to marriage on the condition that Dan would let her finish college. So their next move after the army was to Union College in Lincoln, where she finished her Bachelor of Arts in education. Dan earned a master’s in Finance at the same time, then they moved to Enterprise, Kansas. She taught at the local Adventist elementary school until she gave birth to her first son, Kim. 

Two years later, Dan answered a call to be treasurer of his denomination’s mission in Korea. A second son, John Mark, was born in Seoul. The family moved for a short time to Hong Kong, then returned to the States where they settled at Stone Mountain, Georgia. Billie remembers keeping house on a budget of $200 a month. Even so, their modest ranch home was decorated with modern and interesting furniture. She painted in acrylics and also wrote stories for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She liked to attend an occasional play or concert. She raised her boys to keep the 10 commandments, avoid sugary cereals, take the temperance pledge, and promise that they would never, ever put her in a nursing home. Ever.

The family moved to Topeka, Kansas, in 1974, and Billie focused on furthering her education, earning a master’s degree from the University of Kansas. She went to work for the Kansas Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, where she spent many days on the road visiting small church schools. One teacher remembers her as kind and encouraging. But most of them remember her as a sharp dresser. “She was so classy,” said Kathy Bollinger, who was just starting her teaching career. “She had good clothes and wore them well.” 

In 1986 she moved to the Texas Conference and continued her life on the road, visiting schools and mentoring teachers. That same year she was devastated when her twin sisters died within two days of each other. She spoke about Alberta and Roberta as long as she had speech.

During this time, she partnered with the Review and Herald Publishing Association to launch the Ben Carson Reading Club in schools across North America. She spent time at the South end of Texas, where she helped establish the Valley Grande Institute, which gave high school seniors a path to earning healthcare certificates. It still exists today. She lived in Weslaco for a year, even buying a condominium there. She also bought a condo in South Padre Island. 

At the age of 62, she finished her doctorate, a desire she had held since her days in Bonnerdale. 

After retirement, decorating her homes and rental properties was her great joy. She shuffled furniture between homes in a Mazda minivan. She always supported Christian education. She co-founded an endowment for education majors at Union Adventist University in Lincoln.

She lost Dan in 2016. The following year she contracted shingles around her left eye.

After a long hospitalization, her sons brought her back to her home with the expectation that her life was ending. She defied those expectations by regaining her strength, but it was obvious her time of living independently was over. Remembering her desire to never enter a nursing home, John organized a team of caregivers who watched over her in her own home. They worked to comfort her as she suffered from stabs of neuralgia throughout the day and night. She gradually lost her speech to Alzheimer’s. The last three names she could recall were “Dan,” her husband; “John,” her youngest son; and “Alice,” a longtime caregiver. 

She is survived by her two sons: Kim and his wife, Lori, of Lincoln, Nebraska; John and his wife, Paula, of Burleson, Texas; five grandchildren: John Mark Peckham and his partner, Jonnique Adjmul, of Atlanta, Georgia; Holly Abrego and her husband, David, of Fort Worth,Texas; Sheri-Ann Kaltiso and her husband, Abiy, of Atlanta; Zach Fort and his wife, Sarah, of Fort Worth; and Reef Peckham of Lincoln. She has eight great-grandchildren: Amber Abrego, Julianna Vargas, Chloe Abrego, Emma Fort, Kennedy Ward, Liam Fort, Graham Fort, Alice Fort, Della Fort, and Elias Kaltiso.

A memorial service will be held at the Bonnerdale Seventh-day Adventist Church at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 23.

Online Guest Book can be found at 

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