Monday, January 18, 2010

Billy Jack Brinlee, 1934-2010

The last of my parents’ siblings – Billy Jack Brinlee, my father’s youngest brother – has died.

It had been many years since Uncle Bill and I had seen one another, but over the past couple of years we spoke to one another on the phone a number of times. We talked about family history, about his own career in the Navy and later in construction, about our families now, about our common love for our cats (Uncle Bill and his wife Cheryl had around 10), and about anything else that came to mind. The notes I have from these conversations will add a lot to our family history.

My younger daughter interviewed Uncle Bill for a school history project and we taped the interview; we are so glad now that we did. Uncle Bill’s experiences in the Navy provided rich material for my daughter’s report. He witnessed quite a few atomic bomb tests in the Pacific and remembered early (1961) actions in Vietnam, and he visited a number of places around the Pacific.

Uncle Bill was always one of my favorite relatives; he was funny and although he joked and teased a lot, he was never unkind. I think meanness of any kind was totally alien to his character.

He was the one who would run after me and “catch” me when I “ran away from home” at the age of two.

He was the one who dunked me into the fast-flowing waters of the Colorado River, causing me to laugh helplessly as I reveled in the daring and frightening experience.

He was the one who brought kimonos to my mother and me from Okinawa. He also brought me a grass skirt from Hawaii, and never laughed at my five-year-old posturings as a “princess” when I wore the kimono, grass skirt, and a cut-out paper crown.

He was the daredevil. He was the one who took me for a ride on his motorcycle. He broke his leg riding it twice. He once got a ticket for going 71 miles per hour while standing on the seat on the Hollywood Freeway. A policeman on a motorcycle pulled him over and told him: “We don’t have Marlon Brandos out here!” Bill also recalled driving to Las Vegas in our Edsel at 110 miles per hour.

He was the one whose grin and laugh were irresistible, contagious, and guaranteed to start a giggling fit (in his adoring niece, at least).

Billy Jack Brinlee was born on 16 May 1934 in Ivanhoe, Fannin County, Texas. He was the son of Lawrence Carroll Brinlee and Sallie Frances Norman. Like my father, he left home at a young age (16 years old) to find work. He served in the Navy on the USS Belle Grove in the late 1950s and early 1960s and then returned to in the construction industry; he retired early, at age 55, due to emphysema. He lived at various times in Texas, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Washington, and Arizona.

In 1963 he married Pauline Brice Coleman. He always referred to her children as his children and her grandchildren as his grandchildren, never as stepchildren and step-grandchildren. He was very proud of them and loved to tell about them. Pauline died in 1993; Bill later met and married his second wife, Cheryl. They lived in Bullhead City, Arizona for a while and spent part of the year on the old Brinlee family farm in Ivanhoe, Texas; a few years ago they sold the Arizona house and moved to Ivanhoe to live full time. There they enjoyed raising vegetables and pampering their large crew of cats.

He died on January 10, 2010 at his home in Ivanhoe, Texas.

It is difficult to do justice in writing to Uncle Bill’s humor and generous personality; the few pictures I have of him, shown above, may convey his personality better through his twinkling eyes and easy smile.

I hope to be able to post some excerpts from the transcripts of my telephone conversations with Uncle Bill in the coming weeks. Here is his obituary:

Billy Jack Brinlee
From North Texas e-News
Jan 12, 2010

“Ivanhoe, Texas -- Graveside services for Billy Jack Brinlee, age 75, of Ivanhoe, will be held at 2:00 P.M. Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at Bettes Cemetery under the direction of Wise Funeral Home. Bro. Mark Owens will officiate. Billy Jack passed away Sunday, Jan. 10, 2010 at his residence.

“Billy Jack was born on May 16, 1934 in Ivanhoe, the son of Lawrence Brinlee and Sallie Frances Norman Brinlee. He attended North Fannin Schools and was a U.S. Navy Veteran. He attended Elwood Baptist Church and married Cheryl Bourland on July 1st, 2006. He was preceded in death by his brothers, Leroy, Lewis Wayne, R. Jean “Windy” and GT Brinlee.

“He is survived by:

Wife: Cheryl Brinlee of Ivanhoe
Step sons: Billy, Charlie and Raymond Coleman
Step daughters: Linda Gallher, Dolly Coleman, Terri Richards and Christi Slay
Numerous step grandchildren and step great grandchildren

The family will receive friends at Wise Funeral Home on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2010 from 12:30-1:30 PM prior to service time.”


  1. That is a lovely tribute, Greta. Prayers from Reflections From the Fence to your family.

  2. Greta, I am very sorry for your loss.

  3. I echo Carol, a moving tribute to your uncle.... and 10 cats....he had to be a terrific guy! Sympathy to you and your family from Flipside, Greta.

  4. A beautiful remembrance, Greta. May he rest in peace. I'll remember you and your family in my prayers tonight.


  5. What wonderful memories you have of your uncle. My condolances to you and your family.

  6. Greta, you have given your uncle a beautiful tribute. I a sorry for your family's loss.

  7. Greta,
    thank you for sharing this beautiful gift of love that you penned for your beloved uncle.The love and the joy of life was in every word.

  8. Carol, Apple, Linda, Amy, Tracy, Amy, and Joan:

    Thank you all for your expressions of sympathy. It helps me to know that Uncle Bill has your prayers and that I have been able to share at least a little part of what made him so wonderful.

  9. Greta, I'm so sorry for your loss. Your uncle sounds like he was a wonderful man - and you honored him with just as wonderful a tribute. Thanks for sharing him with us.
    Nancy from My Ancestors and Me