Niagara Gazette


September 14, 2013

LETTERS FROM THE ISLAND: Remembering the Island's Billie Jean


Niagara Gazette — We would see her at Tops and she would ask after our daughter Holly, and then Holly’s children. That was three decades ago. No sparrow fell too far away for Billie Jean Harper’s concern.

It helps to know where she came from, Greenville, S.C., 1935, the time of the setting of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” closer then to the Civil War than to today. Her arrival did not even merit a birth certificate; as she prepared to retire here, South Carolina bestirred itself to send her a “substitute” certificate, tucked into the folds of her final resting place.

Billie Jean and her husband, who preceded her, raised a breathtaking family whose certificates could paper the hall. Son Arthur, for one example, has charge of banquets at the Country Club of Buffalo. That’s a long way from Greenville.

But beyond this was Billie Jean’s “other family,” Islanders by the thousands who never forgot. And that’s our Ode to Billie Jean.

Come visit. We’ll sit a spell.

E-mail Doug and Polly Smith at

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