Civic leader, educator Billington remembered

For The Madera Tribune

Grady Billington.


Grady Billington, longtime Madera educator and pacesetter in numerous community projects, died Monday. He was 85.

The funeral for Mr. Billington is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at Madera Church of Christ, Sunset and Orchard avenues.

Best known in Madera for his career in education, Billington taught at Thomas Jefferson Middle School and Berenda Elementary. He also served as principal and superintendent at Berenda and principal at Dixieland and Washington Schools.

He continued his service with Madera Unified as director of state and federal projects, where he developed the district’s bilingual education program and administered the migrant education program.

He was also an adjunct professor of education at National University.

Billington was born in Altus, Oklahoma. In his early years, he moved with his family back and forth between the oilfields of Bakersfield and the farms of Southwest Oklahoma. During that time, Grady never attended the same elementary school two years in a row.

He attended Martha Blair and Friendship High Schools, all in Oklahoma, and then graduated from Oklahoma State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture. After he moved to California, he earned a master’s degree in education, administration, and supervision at Fresno Pacific University.

Billington met his future wife, Janet Marie Bell, at the checkout line of the supermarket where she was a checker. Love struck as he continually admired her from the lumber yard across the street where he worked. Their courtship lasted 90 days — their marriage lasted 61 and 1/2 years.

Grady and Janet moved to Madera in January 1960.

While he was employed with Madera Unified, he was a faithful member of the Madera Church of Christ. He was also a founder and prime supporter of the Fossil Discovery Center.

In addition, Grady was passionately involved with the Yosemite Bible Camp for more than 40 years. He acted as trustee, director of the Madera encampment, and worked tirelessly on camp improvements. Through his camp activities, Grady was able to influence thousands of children.

Billington also served on the York College Board of Directors, the Community Food Bank, and participated in mission work in Panama. He was a member of the Madera VFW Post 1989.

He retired from Madera Unified in 1992.

Madera Unified Superintendent Todd Lile summarized the district’s sense of loss at Billington’s passing.

“Mr. Billington’s leadership in MUSD is still discussed today. He was someone who mentored many and provided advice that is still passed on to our leaders. The hilarious anecdotes he shared at our 50th Anniversary Gala of his years as principal of the original Berenda School, gave us a window into our beginnings. Mr. Billington shared his wife’s baked goods with district staff as generously as he shared his time and expertise. As one of the founding leaders who worked to make unification a reality, Mr. Billington saw us through some very tumultuous times and left an organization healthier for his leadership. He will certainly be missed and his passing reminds us of the legacy we have to honor and the community trust he and his generation earned.”