“I just love people,” Billingsley said. “And I love children.”
Billingsley, 83, has been volunteering at Johnson City Medical Center since 1985, and caring for her family for much longer. Aside from raising her own children, of which she has three, she also raised several of her grandchildren and other relatives — the first of which came into her home in 1971. Today, she’s still committed to her family, and is raising her 10-year-old great-grandson.
As if that wasn’t enough, she temporarily housed more than a dozen children who were awaiting placement in the foster system from 1971-84. Following her husband’s passing in 1999, she started hosting foreign exchange students from Korea. Germany, Brazil and Japan.
“When I was a young girl in church, this couple brought this little girl they adopted in and I thought ‘When I grow up I’d love to help children like that’,” Billingsley said. “I wasn’t thinking of having my own children, but I count myself blessed because God gave me my own children and he gave me foster children, exchange students and my grandchildren.”
A graduate of Lamar High School’s Class of 1954, Billingsley dedicated her working years to the U.S. Postal Service, a career she started in 1971 and retired from in 1996 — all the while volunteering and caring for children who wound up in her home.
Her dedication has inspired others, too, even if they were only on the periphery of her service. One of those people, Shirley Potter, said Billingsley’s dedication to helping others is both “impressive and humbling.”
It’s incredible to me that someone could be that consistent, compassionate and thoughtful of others apart from her self,” Potter said. “There’s a great strength in Georgia and I just admire her.”
Looking back on her decades of service, Billingsley said “it was a lot” at times, but that she felt hosting foster children and exchange students helped her through her husband’s passing.
As she’s gotten older, however, a series of falls have kept her from volunteering as much as she used to (sometimes more than 500 hours per year) and is instead focusing more on raising her great-grandson, Damon. Her memories of all the children who’ve come through her door haven’t been lost though, with hundreds of photos, letters and other keepsakes still in her possession — still serving as daily reminders of the impact she’s had on their lives, and the impact they’ve had on hers.