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Photo courtesy of Liz Brunner

Billie Thomas, left, and Sara Newton, are shown at an Augusta arts festival three years ago.

The Thomson community lost an iconic figure with the March 16 passing of Billie McMinn Thomas at age 98.

Miss Billie, as she was known to the community, was the last surviving founding member of the Pine Needle Garden Club.

She was not born in Thomson, but moved here with her optometrist husband John. After he died in 1981, she remained and continued to call Thomson home until a little more than a year ago.

Sara Newton, another longterm member of the garden club, was close friends with Miss Billie for nearly 65 years.

“We became friends just because we lived in the same neighborhood and I passed her house when I went anywhere. And, I joined the garden club,” she said. “Billie kept the garden club going all these years,” Newton explained.

But, past their garden club festivities, Newton has other stories to share about times with her old friend.

Years ago, Newton, Miss Billie, and two other women would get up before daylight and hit the back roads to Atlanta for a day of shopping. They did that once or twice a year.

“We always wanted to be there when they opened the door at Rich’s,” Newton said.

The women would split up and each go their own way while shopping. But on the way home they always stopped for lunch and showed each other their purchases.

Somewhere near Madison along a back road, Newton said, the ladies would stop for barbecue. The establishment also served as the bus stop for Greyhound, she said.

“We would show each other what we had in our bags and then we would go in, and open the door, and the man would ask us what we wanted. He would holler back to the kitchen ‘que’,” Newton recalls. “We just always enjoyed stopping there.”

Miss Billie was known around town for her style and flair.

“Her home was fabulous. She just had a knack for picking out things that nobody else would pick out to wear and to have in her home,” Newton said.

Many of the women admired Miss Billie and respected her fashion choices.

“She was the most wonderful lady that you could have ever known. She had style. She had grace. She was way ahead of her time. She was so talented, a beautiful person,” said Bonnie McCorkle.

Most who knew Miss Billie knew her as someone who would wear high heels and colorful dresses, sometimes even animal prints, well into her 90s.

“She still had the guts to dress the way she wanted to dress and I am proud of her,” said McCorkle.

Lucy Wills, another garden club member, has fond memories from her childhood about Miss Billie as well as knowing her as an adult.

“Miss Billie, when I think about her, she was truely a southern lady all the way through. Everybody knows she had the poise and style and nobody loves Thomson more than she did,” said Wills.

Wills’ early memories of Miss Billie go back to when she was a child in church.

“I guess she watched me grow up. I sat behind her at church,” said Wills. “I loved watching her come in with Dr. John because she was always decked out, she was always perfect.”

Later Wills, as an adult, came back home to Thomson after a few years away. Once again she found herself sitting behind Miss Billie in church, but this time in the balcony. And when she too joined the garden club, she was able to spend more good times with Thomas.

Wills points out something that she said most people may not know.

“She went through the Depression and she knew the real value of work,” said Wills. “A lot of people if they saw her in her little Mercedes and getting out in her snazzy clothes, they didn’t realize she was such a worker.”

In December of 2019 Miss Billie left Thomson and moved to Savannah, something that her son there had wanted her to do for sometime. After her passing, she was brought back to Thomson and last Friday was buried at Savannah Valley Memorial Gardens.