DETROIT — For close to 50 years, residents of Detroit have been able to see a familiar face whenever they visit City Hall — Billie Owens.
She has served the city for 44 years, filling a number of roles and duties over the years. Originally from just outside Bula, Owens moved to Red River County in 1967 when her husband, a Red River County native, decided to move tcloser to his hometown. They first moved to Bagwell before eventually coming to Detroit.
Owens took an immediate liking to Detroit, as did her four children.
“The kids seemed to enjoy it here a lot more than they liked it out west,” she said. “There was a great sense of fellowship that made them feel welcome, and they made a lot of great friends.”
Owens didn’t immediately begin working for the city, as she worked for a time at a local doctor’s office and at a convenience store. Her administerial duties at those jobs, as well as work she’d done at a bank before moving to Northeast Texas, made her a popular choice to become the city secretary in 1975.
“The city needed a new secretary, and the principal at the high school, Principal Hopper, told me I should apply for the job, and he thought I’d do a good job,” Owens said. “They asked me if I’d be interested in the job, and I said, ‘Why not?’”
As secretary, Owens was responsible for keeping track of the town’s financials, recording minutes at Detroit City Council meetings, overseeing several of the day-to-day operations at city hall and more.
For Owens, the best part of the job was all the people she worked with — both the Detroit residents who would go to City Hall to pay bills or voice concerns, as well as the other city officials.
A couple years into her tenure as secretary, Owens went to Austin to complete some financial training. The training ended with a test, and Owens said she was nervous about how she performed.
“I had no idea how I’d done,” she said.
She still vividly remembers Cecil Latimer, the mayor at the time, running down the street, waving her test results in the mail, crowing, “Billie got a 100!”
“Things like that are what stand out to me about this place,” Owens said with a smile. “Detroit is just a special place.”
The city had only become incorporated a few years prior, and so City Council and the rest of the government were still in their infancy. As the city was still establishing itself, Owens said she found herself frequently working with the Ark-Tex Council of Governments and other state agencies.
“They already had a council and mayor by the time we moved here, but not by much,” she said.
She served as city secretary for 12 years before retiring in 1987 due to family matters. Her retirement, however, was short lived.
Owens had not even been retired for four days before she received a phone call from the mayor, frantically telling her that the new city secretary had abruptly walked out of the job.
For the next decade, Owens would help out at City Hall, providing assistance when needed, until the early 2000s, when the city decided to officially put her on the payroll once again, as city clerk.
“I tell you what, I’m glad I didn’t have to do all the jobs of the secretary again,” she said with a laugh. “But it was nice to be back.”
As clerk, Owens primarily handles people’s water bills, she said.
Having been with the city for most of its time as an incorporated entity, Owens has seen it change and grow over the years. She’s worked alongside several mayors, including Jamie Miller, who she said was crucial in helping establish the city shortly after it became incorporated; and Travis Bonner, who served the city in the early 2000s and oversaw the construction of Detroit’s walking track.
For all its changes, though, Owens said she was struck by how much things stayed the same.
“We’re not stuck in our ways, but things don’t really change much here,” she said. “I like that about it, and I think a lot of other people do too.”
Looking to the future, Owens said she thinks Detroit is in a good position.
“We’ve got the Dollar General coming into town, and work has already started on that, and we just got the new restaurant, CJ’s Cafe,” she said. “I think we’re in a good spot.”
Owens doesn’t have any plans to retire, she said, and again credited the people as the main reason she still works with the city.
“The people and the sense of community is really special,” Owens said. “There isn’t really anything like it.”