Wilma Ann “Billie” (Murphy) Gardner

Published 4:58 pm Monday, November 30, 2015

Wilma Ann (Murphy) Gardner died of heart failure on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015 in Jacksonville, Fla. surrounded by her daughter and son, her daughter-in-law and son-in-law, her hospice nurse and yet another dog whose affections she stole from a hapless family member.

“Billie” was the second of three daughters born to Mary Gertrude Casey Murphy and William Eugene Murphy. Her grandparents were Johanna and Edward Casey of Rouseville, Pa. and Jane and Peter Murphy of Jersey City, N.J. Her sisters, who are no longer living, were Johanna Patricia (Murphy) Sandberg and Mary Lou (Murphy) Huhn (George).

Born in February (National Cherry Month), on the eighteenth day in 1931, Billie rightfully loved cherries—from chocolate covered cherries she received from her students, to fresh cherries from the market, to cherry juice she sipped in her final days. Billie was born in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio and raised in Oil City, Pa. where she graduated in 1949 from Oil City High School.

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Billie’s father William instilled in her a belief in education. William and his four brothers, sons of Irish immigrants, all graduated from college. Billie graduated from Clarion State Teachers’ College, now known as Clarion University, in 1952. She earned her Master of Education degree from Converse College in 1984. Billie married Robert Henry Gardner, Jr. in July of 1954 in Birmingham, Ala., and they were married for 40 years until his death in 1994. “Billie and Bob” moved to Tryon in 1960 where they raised their family, and where Billie became an active member of the community until she moved to be near her children in 2005.

Billie taught school for many years, the majority of which were served in North Carolina’s Polk County School District as a second grade teacher. She was a member of the Tryon Presbyterian Church where she served as an elder and a Stephen Minister. Billie chaired the Trophy Committee for the Tryon Riding and Hunt Club’s Blockhouse Steeplechase Races for many years.  She enjoyed gardening and flower arranging. As a member of the Gay Blades Garden Club, Billie proudly brought home a blue ribbon from the Piedmont Interstate Fair in 1961 for a table arrangement with the theme of Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp.

Billie’s children are Robert Henry Gardner IV (Debra) and Leslie Gardner Hankey (Charles). Her grandchildren are Caroline Gardner West (Adam), Claire Warner Gardner, William David Jackson (Generosa), Heather Lyn Brandon, April Hankey Norton (Alex), Charles Winship Hankey, Jr. and Leslie Ord Hankey. Her great-granddaughter is Nell Adley Norton.

In addition to her deep Christian faith, “Billie” assured family members that she also believed in Santa Claus and the Rainbow Bridge—the bridge where her dogs would wait for her in heaven. A list of Billie’s beloved dogs (and one deer) include Amos (the deer), Heini, Caesar, Chumbly, Trooper, Lobo, Zack, Schroeder, Brian Boru, Cookie Dog, Lily, Drambuie, Too Sweet, Puddin’, Pie, Buddy, Boris (her beloved poodle) and Maggie—the final dog whose affections she stole shamelessly from her daughter-in-law.

The Reverend Ann Greenwood officiated at a private service on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2015 in Jacksonville, Fla. The family wishes to acknowledge with deep gratitude the care provided to Billie by the Reverend Greenwood and the staff of VITAS Healthcare including their Hospice nurses.

Memorials may be made to the Foothills Humane Society, 989 Little Mountain Road, Columbus, North Carolina 28782, foothillshumanesociety.org.

Ponte Vedra Valley Funeral Home in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida is in charge of arrangements.

– Submitted by Leslie Hankey