STEPHENSON, Billie Lee
Billie Lee Stephenson of Rockville, Maryland, passed away in January, 2021, at 77 years of age. The cause was the rapid progression of recently diagnosed ALS. Billie was born to Willa Mae (DeWitt) and Ernest Stephenson in Springfield Ohio. She graduated from Springfield South High School, Bowling Green State University with a Bachelor's in English
education and psychology, and the University of Florida with a Master's in guidance and counseling. Billie and Larry Joe Roszman married, divorced
after nearly 25 years of marriage, and remained best friends.
After moving to Florida for Larry's graduate work, Billie taught English for two years in a recently integrated small southern school. This experience with the difficulties of civil rights and integration cemented her life-long social activism for fair treatment and equal opportunity of all peoples.
While studying for her Master's, Billie began participating in Encounter and Consciousness Expansion Groups. Throughout her life she continued to use these approaches to explore her psyche, relationships, and spirituality. Her explorations included Jungian and transpersonal psychology, EST, Joseph Campbell's notions, meditation, and many other practices. In Billie's own words, "She continued to grow and explore all through her life. She was a loyal friend and a good listener, and she could always scare up a laugh even at the darkest moments."
Billie was an explorer, an adventurer through life and the world. She found great joy in using what she discovered to
assist others in finding, reaching, and expanding their life's potential. Billie worked in the Montgomery County (Maryland) Public School system (MCPS) for over 20 years as a teacher, a counselor, a parent educator, and a placement specialist. Most of her work was in the MCPS's Regional Institute for Children and Adolescents (RICA). Billie loved her work, her
association with RICA, her colleagues, and assisting students in finding ways forward with their lives. For her, the work was demanding, at times exhausting, and always very rewarding. Many of her students, years later, sought her out to tell her what a difference she had made in their lives, which gave her great pleasure.
Billie loved to read as an extension of her exploration and study of life. She favored fiction, psychology, biography, and poetry but read what caught her attention and fancy. Travel was a passion for Billie and a continuation of her exploration of life replete with new discoveries and insights. As she traveled the Southwest with Larry, she became enchanted with the Native American pueblos of the Southwest, Taos, Santa Fe and the rock formations of the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. She found Crater Lake, the Redwoods and
Sequoias of the Pacific Coast and Yosemite National Park magical. Kauai was a special reward and treat after she recovered from a serious illness. Billie toured Machu Picchu and the
Amazon headwaters; Delphi, Santorini, Troy, Tuscany,
Florence, and Sicily (a favorite); Stonehenge; Iceland; and the Bay of Fundy. She chose each because of a special fascination. During an archeological dig in North Dakota, Billie discovered the shinbone of a giant short-faced bear, which pleased her greatly since she identified the bear as her spirit animal. She relished clean frescos in Pompeii, although the work was hot and difficult, during an archeological expedition.
Billie developed affection for cats after a mother cat abandoned a kitten (Brett) on her doorstep in Florida. Their companionship -- Lady Brett, Tigger and Pooh, Sunshine and Luna -- provided great comfort and solace to Billie during illnesses and in difficult personal times.
Billie loved music. As an adolescent, she listened late into the night to rhythm-and-blues broadcast from a Memphis radio station and danced to fifties rock and roll. In college, she
embraced folk music, bluegrass, and modern jazz. In adulthood, Leonard Cohen became a favorite composer-singer because, she said, he captured her views and moods. Baroque was her favorite classical form until she became enchanted with Tchaikovsky's Rite of Spring (after attending a live
performance) and Erik Satie's piano works.
For many years Billie investigated the genealogy of her family. She was a great detective and found records in the National Archives, many courthouses and defunct newspapers' archives in Kentucky, Ohio, and Delaware. She located and visited many small, often abandoned, family graveyards and churches in Appalachian Kentucky, and scoured existing databases. She found many distant and some not so distant cousins with whom she corresponded and exchanged information. Two of her greatest satisfactions were, first, discovering that ancestors on both sides of her family arrived in North America long before the Revolutionary War and, second, squashing a long-held personal disappointment that she was not "exotic" by discovering that her ancestors embraced many different
cultures and ethnicities Welsh, Irish, English, Danish, German -- which made her very exotic indeed.
An art teacher friend introduced Billie to painting. Billie had never drawn or painted, even after taking a drawing class in retirement. She discovered a talent and enthusiasm for painting, and the power of spiritual exploration and expression through painting. Her works were colorful and dynamic, with occasional representational elements. Generally, however,
Billie's works are abstract and include intense sweeps of forms and colors moving through space. She exhibited at several shows and enjoyed seeing her paintings hanging in friends' homes. One of Billie's paintings hangs in the Meditation Room of Montgomery Hospice's Casey House facility where Billie passed away.
Billie expressed her commitments, beliefs, and interests through volunteering. She began with EST seminars, coordinated encounter and psychotherapy weekends, and family discussion groups at RICA. Most recently, Billie volunteered for the "Reading is Terrific" program in which she read books to and with first graders in the MCPS system. She greatly enjoyed and was enthusiastic about sparking a love for reading in these young people. For many years she was a volunteer with the Montgomery Hospice. At first she worked with patients and their families, and coordinated other volunteers. Finally she worked with families and assisted with family Tea Time at Casey House several times a month. Billie felt strongly that the experiencing the complete journey of life was important and that the final passage should be fully experienced and not hidden. In Billie's own words, "I consider it an honor and privilege to be with the terminally ill in their final days and
moments. There are no games, no agendas, no expectations, just the present moment to be with and witness. I cannot think of a more intimate and compassionate experience to share with another person." Billie's views were reinforced when she stayed with her mother in her final weeks, during which they had deep conversation and dispatched many
secrets and previously unspoken attitudes.
Billie Lee Stephenson was a strong Life Force who had a tremendous influence and effect on all who encountered her, especially those whom she loved and who loved her. Her friendship, conversations, companionship, and bohemian ways and dress will be sorely missed, and leaves a large hole in many lives.
"As I was
looking over my life
it seems to have been a series of serendipitous accidents. I rarely had a long range or specific plan and that served me well
So it seems a circle is complete."
Billie is survived by her former husband, Larry Roszman, of Silver Spring, Maryland; her long-time friend, Tom Pearson, of Alexandria, Virginia; her cousin Diana Hensley of New Carlisle, Ohio; and numerous distant cousins, colleagues, and friends.
In remembrance of Billie's remarkable life, please consider donating in her name to the Montgomery Hospice, ALS
research, the "Reading is Terrific " program, or the Wounded Warriors project.