Willie Jean “Billie” Bevis Maddox, 90, of Niceville, FL, died 21 May 2021, after a brief illness. Willie Jean was born 12 Aug, 1930, in Bascom, FL, to Whit Bevis and Genie Averett Bevis. Her father was a schoolteacher and postmaster. Her mother died when she was 3 years old and Willie Jean lived with an aunt in Tampa. When her father remarried and moved to Fort Pierce, FL as a state fruit inspector, Willie Jean returned to her immediate family and graduated from high school. Willie Jean married Iven Maddox in Fort Pierce, FL, in 1949 and began her world travels as she followed her husband in his US Naval career.
Iven was a poor Florida boy with few prospects when they met in 1948. However, Willie Jean went on a blind date with him and they hit it off. The next day he called to ask her out again, and her sister said she had gone to Cuba. Iven thought the family was just trying to get rid of him because Willie Jean had said nothing about a trip. What he did not know was that Willie Jean would go anywhere at the drop of a hat. A friend had called that morning and said she was off to Cuba and Willie Jean did not hesitate to go with her. Despite this setback, Iven persisted and they were married in Feb 1949 and Willie Jean became “Billie”. Their world travels began with their first move via Greyhound bus. In those days, junior enlisted received little encouragement to have a family. The saying was that, “If the Navy wanted you to have a wife, they would have issued you one.”
Billie never lost her wanderlust, traveling to Iven’s duty stations throughout his career, including 3 years in Naples, Italy. Whenever there was an opportunity to go somewhere, she was the first to sign up. She traveled to many places with the Wives’ Club, including Spain, Portugal, Gibraltar, Egypt and Israel. The family spent the summer holidays camping throughout Europe. On one trip Billie set up the tent 13 times in 29 days, seeing Italy, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and England.
In 1969, Billie took Ginger out of high school and put her in correspondence courses (the old-fashioned mail-in type of distance learning) to complete the school year while they drove around Europe for 6 months, following Iven’s ship from port to port. They would stay in a hotel and await the ship’s arrival in each port. If Iven could get off, he would join them in town. If he had to work, they would go out to the aircraft carrier on the liberty boat to see him. It was dangerous stepping from the rocking small boat onto the ladder going up the side of the ship. On one occasion, Mom caught her thumb on the ladder as the ship went up and the boat went down. The ship’s surgeon put her broken arm in a cast and she continued her travels, nothing could slow her down.
Billie repeated the exercise after Ginger graduated from high school, following Iven’s ship around the Pacific. Billie met Iven in the Philippines, and Ginger joined them in Singapore. Billie and Ginger traveled by the local steam train (first class was a wooden bench and open window, through which soot and cinders came) from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok. Billie would eat just about anything, and even drank pickle juice, but the food on the train was more than even she could stomach. During the 3 day journey, the train would stop in the middle of the jungle, the engine would unhook and disappear off for a period of time, then return and hook up and the journey would continue. It was an adventure! From Bangkok Billie flew to Hong Kong, the Philippines, Japan and Taiwan to meet the ship in each port.
Driving from coast to coast of Canada, from Newfoundland to British Columbia, Billie did not forego travel in North America. She also traveled the width and breadth of the US several times, from Texas to Maine, from Virginia to California, and Hawaii to Alaska.
After 33 years in the Navy, Iven retired, over Billie’s objections, because she did not want to give up the traveling life. They put all their goods in storage and moved onto an ocean-going houseboat. They traveled up and down the eastern seaboard of the US for several years before deciding to come ashore – in the Bahamas. They bought a lot on Bimini, overlooking the Gulf Stream, and built a house on the beach, literally doing much of the construction themselves. When Ginger brought her boyfriend, Matthew, to meet her parents there, he asked what was for supper and Mom handed him a bucket & said, “Whatever you catch”. Although he had never fished before, he was a quick learner and passed the test.
With a daughter in the Navy, Billie and Iven visited wherever Ginger was stationed. In Calif, they took off in an RV to Canada to see the World’s Fair. From Naples, Italy, they did a driving tour of Yugoslavia and traveled space available on military transport planes to Greece and Turkey. From UK they took a road trip to Ireland and a train trip to Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Billie traveled to China, climbing the Great Wall and cruising the Yangtze River. Billie and Iven toured Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti and Fiji. As they got older, they slowed down a bit and started cruising, going around South America from Chili, Argentina, and Uruguay to Brazil. The Panama Canal cruise included Panama, Costa Rica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Columbia, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. A Baltic cruise included Russia, Estonia, Finland, Sweden, and Denmark. The Black Sea and river cruise included Bulgaria, Romania, and the Ukraine.
Billie never lost her zest for life. Born and raised in FL, she became a world traveler visiting over 60 countries, some multiple times. Billie went skiing in the Alps and white water rafting on the Ocoee River, where the movie Deliverance was filmed. She went swimming with sting rays in the Caribbean and with sharks in the Bahamas. She rode a camel to the pyramids in Egypt and a mule to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. She went down a salt mine in Austria and to the top of a volcano in Italy. She spent a week deep-sea fishing in Baja California. She crossed the Arctic Circle, the equator and the International Date Line. The one item on her bucket list she did not do was ride in a hot air balloon.
Becoming a quilter late in life, Billie made one of her first quilts in 2008. A kind and caring person, Billie was an active member of the Flying Needles Quilt Guild of Niceville and dedicated to helping others. She gave her quilts away to friends and family, wrapping them in her love. She always saw the good in people, looking at the world from a “glass half full rather than a glass half empty” point of view.
Billie is predeceased by her husband Iven, daughter Iva Jean, brothers Frank and Bennie Bevis, and sister Agnes Bevis. Surviving family members include her daughter Lieutenant Commander Agnes V. (Ginger) Maddox, US Navy (Retired), and son-in-law Matthew Cox, nieces Gale Martin, Genie Owens, Fran Robinson, Jenny Granier, and god-daughter Allyson Bristow.
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