Remembering the life of Billie Lee Caton Watkins / July 19, 1931 — August 12, 2014
Billie Lee Caton Watkins was born on July 19, 1931, in Helena, Montana, the first child of Ellen and Edgar Caton. She was christened Wilhelmina Leontine, but Billie Lee was the name her mother really wanted. The family soon moved to Portland, Oregon, and Chester, Sandra, and John enlarged the family circle. Billie Lee attended Richmond Grade School and Franklin High, becoming the first person in her family to graduate from high school. Friends invited the Catons to Central Christian Church, where Billie Lee was baptized. She was active in Camp Fire Girls and Christian Endeavor, delivered the evening Oregonian, and took violin and piano lessons.
During her senior year in high school, her pastor offered a class in New Testament Greek. Since Billie Lee planned to attend Northwest Christian College (now University) in Eugene, Oregon, she enrolled. Among the 32 students was a high school senior from another congregation, Keith Watkins. At the end of the year, only Billie Lee and Keith remained in the class. They were married after their junior year at NCC.
After graduation in 1953, Billie and Keith moved to the small farming community of Somerset, Indiana, where Keith served as student minister while attending seminary. There, Sharon and Marilyn were born. In 1956, Keith was called as pastor to the Christian Church in Sanger, California, where Michael joined the family. In 1959, the family moved to Richmond, California, 3 weeks before Carolyn’s birth. Keith was called to the faculty of Christian Theological Seminary in 1961, and the family moved to Indianapolis. Kenneth was born a year later.
Billie managed a limited household budget and encouraged the activities of her five kids, acting as car-pool mother, Girl Scout cookie chair, and library volunteer and math coach in the local public schools. At University Park Christian Church, Billie taught the kindergarten class, was a mainstay in Christian Women’s Fellowship, and sang alto in the church choir. She joined a community choir and was a founding member of a recorder ensemble that played at community gatherings, the Indianapolis Art Museum, and Governor’s Mansion.
In Indiana and later in Oregon, Billie was a leader in Church Women United and served on regional Nurture and Certification Teams that counseled seminary students preparing for ordained church leadership. She expressed her commitments to love and justice quietly but vigorously by participating in work projects and demonstrations in the communities where she lived and elsewhere in nation and world.
Upon Keith’s retirement in 1995, they moved to Sun City West, Arizona. Billie joined another recorder group, enjoyed line dancing, and participated in regional church work. She joined Keith in interim ministries in Portland and Albany, Oregon, before she and Keith settled in Vancouver, Washington, in 2002. During her decade as a member of First Christian Church in Portland, she sang in the Sanctuary Choir, served on the World Outreach Committee and as an elder, participated in the Christian Women’s Fellowship, and ministered lovingly to many.
Through all of these years Billie maintained a home marked by tranquility and love. She provided an ethical barometer for her five children and nine grandchildren, recognizing the light of God in each of God’s children, and treating every person she encountered with dignity and respect and love.
Billie spent 1993 in a full series of treatments for breast cancer. Her cancer returned in 2006. Through a long series of treatments, she continued her life with steadfast purpose and grace. She died at home on August 12, 2014 in Vancouver, Washington, surrounded by family. Liturgies celebrating her life were conducted at First Christian Church in Portland and Central Christian Church in Indianapolis, with burial in Crown Hill Cemetery, close to her long-time Indianapolis home. “Buried with Christ in baptism; raised to walk in newness of life.”