Couple produced movies, made school buses safer and navigated Washington, D.C.'s corridors of power during their 31 years of marriage
Billie Reynolds moved to King City in 2003 and jumped right into organizations and activities, bringing decades of experience in government, politics, bible study and even television and movies to wherever she turned her talents.
In 2008 Billie published a book called "Incredible Redhead," which is ostensibly a biography about her late husband Bill "Red" Reynolds, but because their lives were so intertwined, it also is a biography - brutally honest at times - and a love story.
Billie, who had a sister and two brothers, was born in 1929 in Oakland and moved with her family to Wyoming when she was a toddler. The Great Depression hit Wyoming hard, but in spite of the tough times, Billie's mom thought her children should be movie stars. This was prophetic because Billie performed throughout her childhood and did end up in the movies.
"I've apparently performed all my life," said Billie, who has a lot of newspaper clippings to prove it.
When Billie was in the seventh grade, her family moved to Phoenix for her parents' health, and she experienced culture shock. "There were almost as many in my school as had been in my whole town in Wyoming," Billie said.
Meanwhile, Bill - as Billie called him - or otherwise known as Red, was the fifth of five boys born to a family in Iowa who moved to Southern California when Bill was a child. After World War II broke out, Bill joined the Navy, serving mostly in Guam.
His parents had moved to Marcola, Ore., and Bill joined them after he got out of the service, enrolling in the University of Oregon for a time. Bill's brother Don had settled in Phoenix and invited Bill to move there, where he won a part in the Phoenix Little Theater's 1950 production of "Billy the Kid."
"There he met a nice young lady who was holding book, doing props and keeping all the modern jewelry for the actors," Billie writes in her book. "Asking Billie Iles to the cast party changed their lives forever. They were married three months later."
A month before their first wedding anniversary, they welcomed son Gil. Almost two years later, they decided to join Bill's parents in Oregon, riding on a Greyhound bus for 33 hours to Springfield.
Bill was working in a local store when the operations director for a new TV station - KVAL - came in to get supplies and ended up hiring Bill to prepare studio sets. After an actor hired to introduce cartoons and kids' movies turned out to be a "nervous disaster," Bill was asked if he had any Western clothes, which he did.
So Bill was told, "Well, starting Monday you are going to do the daily kids' show called 'The Big Roundup.'" And he became "Red" Reynolds, a job that lasted for six years.
Red, who had red hair like his father, also found innovative ways to improve commercials and programs; both Red and Billie, who had added daughters Wendy and Cindy to the family by then, acted in several local plays; and Red even appeared in a movie and TV pilot while Billie wrote about the arts in the local paper.
Then Red and Billie reconnected with people they had known in the entertainment industry, and Red and his partner Stan Daugherty started Redbill Productions. They traveled back and forth between LA and Eugene, while Billie kept the Eugene office and the books for Redbill Productions.
"And you never knew what would happen around Hollywood," Billie wrote, recalling an incident in which a man fainted in front of Red, who used his Boy Scout training to revive him, only to discover it was Cary Grant.
Their first movie, "Stump Run" starring Edgar Buchan and Slim Pickens, was filmed in Oregon. Redbill also filmed a second movie, "Chartroose Caboose," as well as a TV pilot, "Timber," both in Oregon.
"'Chartroose' is how we spelled the movie name as the railroad conductor was not that well educated," Billie explained. "It was done on purpose."
For both films, Billie was the script supervisor on set, tracking details of costumes, length of time for each scene, dialogue changes and so on.
Red next looked for a radio position but instead got a job with the Oregon Highway Travel Information Division in Salem, and the family moved to the state Capital.
As part of the job, Red traveled all over the Western states promoting Oregon, but he still had time to pursue other interests. Eventually Red and Billie opened Reynolds Advertising Agency with Red as the salesman and promoter and Billie writing the copy and keeping the books.
On Christmas Eve 1967, the Reynolds' fourth child, Christy Carol, whose name was selected by her three siblings, was born.
The couple also took on political campaigns and was hired to set up the statewide convention of the Oregon School Bus Operators, which ended up changing their lives. The Oregon group hired Red as its executive director, and soon both Reynolds were traveling to national meetings and delving into safety issues.
"With the growth of new departments of the federal government came the growth of trade associations to speak for affected industries," Billie wrote. "They needed executive directors in Washington, D.C., to speak up when new regulations were being formulated."
According to Billie's book, during the Vietnam War, an excise tax was levied on luxury items that included school buses. The tax was removed from public school district bus purchases, but private school bus operators, who operated 40 percent of the nation's buses, were still taxed. The 10 percent tax put the private owners at a distinct disadvantage with school districts.
In response to this issue, in 1965 the private operators formed the National School Bus Contract Operators trade association, and their first success was getting the 10 percent excise tax removed.
In 1968 the original NSBCO executive director left, and the association hired Red and Billie to run it, so they managed both the national and Oregon operations from their Salem agency office.
Several key decisions were made under their tenure that are still in effect today. Not all states painted school buses chrome yellow for visibility in all types of weather, but under Safety Standard 17, this became the law. NSBCO also pressed for seatbelts for bus drivers but not students.
The Physicians for Automotive Safety mounted campaigns for individual seat belts, but crash tests with dummies showed passengers would actually receive more broken backs and necks if they were added. The most effective safety improvements came from increasing seat-back heights and using deeper padded seats with the rows placed closer together.
When Red and Billie came on board, annual school bus fatalities ranged from 15 to a high of 75. Some were due to crashes, but many were due to students walking around the buses.
A campaign to improve safety began, and the addition of larger convex mirrors dubbed "Dolly Partons" improved driver vision, especially of very small children. Annual evacuation drills by the children also saved lives, and both injuries and deaths of children dropped.
According to Billie, private contractors were treated as second-class citizens and could not hold positions on the National Safety Council. Then the newly formed Department of Transportation created a position for school bus safety, giving private operators parity. Red was prepared to chair the annual meeting of the National School Bus Contract Operators in 1968 but had to remain in Salem with a client, so Billie, who had recently had her fourth child, ran the meeting in Scottsdale, Ariz.
NSBCO went through a period of transition with a couple of directors coming and going until it reached a crossroads, and Red was hired.
"The NSBCO officers knew they were hiring a team for one salary," Billie wrote, and the couple started in the new job in December 1970. At the time, Billie was the assistant editor for the Oregon Blue Book, which had a deadline in January when the Legislature met.
However, Red purchased plane tickets for Dec. 22 for the couple and their three daughters to fly to Washington, D.C., while Gil stayed behind to attend the University of Oregon. Billie proofed the galleys for the Blue Book in Fairfax, Va., where they settled.
Among the first people they encountered were U.S. Senators Bob Packwood and Mark Hatfield, whom Red had previously met while working in Eugene, and Red and Billie had been active in their Oregon campaigns.
The Reynolds divided up their job, with Red handling the Senate while Billie dealt with the Pupil Transportation Department at the Department of Transportation and other bureaucracies.
The private contractors worked together with the public school district operations and state directors on Safety Standard 17, unifying the operation of school buses, drivers, construction, inspections and day-to-day practices. Not all the members were pleased at sharing their safety practices what had given them an enviable safety record.
"Probably the greatest contribution that Red and I made for the industry was getting the various groups to pull together for the greater good of the precious cargo we carried," Billie said.
"The NSBCO private contractors agreed to a name change: National School Transportation Association with a new logo that Red designed. The initials NSTA in black were placed into a chrome yellow school bus silhouette. It's still the logo today."
Red developed friendships and relationships with many people in and out of Congress, which stood him a good stead when working to get legislation passed.
Billie wrote, "When former Oregon Gov. Neil Goldschmidt was secretary of transportation under President Jimmy Carter, his legislative aide Mike Finklestein met Red for the first time and said, "So this is Red Reynolds! I have not been able to get anyone on the House or the Senate Transportation Committees to move on matters unless they are sure you approve... You've won respect with your data and integrity... "
She added, "In the 13 years that Red was with NSTA, there was never any bill passed that NSTA did not approve or have input into so that it was beneficial to the safety and the industry overall, adding that one of their innovations was an insurance program for fleet."
In the meantime, Red and Billie, both Republicans, decided to get involved in local Virginia politics where electors from each county are elected to attend a day-long meeting in Richmond and cast ballots over and over until candidates for each statewide position are elected.
John Warner, who had recently married Elizabeth Taylor, was one of the final two vying for the U.S. Senate nomination, and the competition got nasty, with electors writing down the names of her ex-husbands. The other candidate won the nomination but was killed in a small plane accident while campaigning, so Warner became the Republican candidate, and the rest is history.
Taylor was in a "chubby" phase, according to Billie, but won the hearts of men and women alike as she graciously campaigned with Warner. At one event attended by both couples, Red was wearing gray slacks and a pale yellow and gray jacket, and as he and Billie moved down the line, Taylor asked Red to wait for a moment until she could get Warner's attention.
"She then asked Red to turn around slowly," Billie wrote. "'See, John, you can wear soft colors like this and look quite nice.' John looked at Red, obviously uncomfortable with this clothes discussion. He nodded and then went back to his next guest. Elizabeth smiled at Red and thanked him."
Over the years, the Reynolds met many politicians and luminaries at various social events; they attended a party at Hickory Hill, where Ethyl Kennedy still lived following the assassination of Robert. And in Billie's eyes, the finest person of the Nixon Administration was Pat Nixon, who was often overlooked. Billie attended a tea at the White House for the American Pen Women and noted in the book that Pat "was a very kind, thoughtful lady and seldom given credit for anything, though she accomplished a lot without publicity."
As the Reynolds continued working at the NSTA, they got a 1930 Carpenter school bus donated to the Smithsonian Museum transportation display and a postage stamp issued featuring a school bus.
At the NSTA convention in Portland in 1971, the School Bus Safety Road-eo was instituted, with states holding their own competitions and sending the winners to compete in the nationals, drawing attention to the great job bus drivers do, according to Billie. "It creates positive press whereas most school bus press relates to accidents."
Along the way, the NSTA Board of Directors decided to pay Billie a salary since she was working full time anyway.
In 1973, when President Richard Nixon was re-elected, Red and Billie attended their first inaugural ball, and on another occasion, after they were seated at the Ford Theatre for a performance, in walked Nancy Kissinger and Happy Rockefeller, who sat next to Red. The Reynolds also enjoyed sitting in the vice-presidential box at the Kennedy Center to see operas and plays.
Red was asked to head up the Roadside Business Association, and the NSTA Board of Directors agreed that he could lobby for both RBA and NSTA and that Billie would become the NSTA executive director in 1976.
The Reynolds were in Washington during Watergate, Nixon's ouster and Ford's assumption of the presidency.
President Ford personally thanked them for a job well done managing transportation at his nominating convention, sending them an autographed photo that reads, "To Billie and Red Reynolds, with appreciation and best wishes, Gerald R. Ford."
Billie wrote that even when Congress was overwhelmingly Democratic, "all children ride school buses, so it didn't matter to NSTA which party was in charge while the Reynolds were in D.C."
At one point, Red was approached by a group of Oregon Republicans asking him to re-establish residency in Oregon and run for Congress, but after a friend pointed out that Red would only have one vote as a Congressman while in his current capacity, he had the ability to influence many people, Red declined.
The Reynolds started spending Christmases in Arizona, where Red was building an art studio out in the desert so he could paint and Billie could write. Now grandparents, they determined to end their NSTA contracts in 1982.
All the officers of NSTA and RBA attended the inauguration of Ronald Reagan, including the swearing-in ceremony and balls, and in the fall of 1981, Red, who was 54 by then, went on a business trip to Arizona while also planning to work on the roof of their desert studio, which was leaking. After working in the hot sun, he got overheated and was hospitalized with heart issues.
Back in Virginia, the weather was cold and snowy, and Red set to work digging out a section of the underground sewer line at their home that had clogged. The next morning, Billie had a printing of the National School Bus Report ready to take to the mailing house and left their home, while Red decided to take a nap until she came back in the afternoon to go to a swearing-in ceremony.
Billie decided to come home at noon to give Red a bowl of soup. "She came upstairs, and Red lay sleeping like a baby," Billie wrote. "He didn't respond to her call so she reached over to touch him, and he was cold. When she grabbed his arm, it was stiff. The knowledge that Red was dead pierced her heart like a dagger. She knew CPR wouldn't help."
Red and Billie had been married for 31 years, and more than 500 people attended Red's celebration of life service. Mark Hatfield read a poem, "High Flight" by John McGee Jr. that begins, "Oh, I have skipped the surely bonds of earth and danced the skies... "
NSTA offered Billie the option of staying on in Washington if she wanted to renew her contract, but Christy was only 14 and told her mom she didn't want her to keep working, so at the end of the school year, they moved to Scottsdale, where Billie lived for 22 years.
Once there, Billie became the executive director for the Arizona Landscape Contract Operators for a couple of years and then became a securities representative, financial planner and insurance agent. She continued to write and published a book on finances for women while remaining deeply involved in church and politics.
Following a brief bout with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma cancer in 2002, Billie's three children who were living in Oregon wanted her to move here and be closer to her six grandchildren. She checked out King City and found the house she still lives in for sale. "I made an offer and asked them to throw in the furniture," Billie said.
"I live near three of my children and six grandchildren," she added. "One of my daughters is a minister's wife, one works for World Vision, and one is a lay pastor. Gil and his wife Carmen own Glass Fusion Headquarters in Sherwood, and he leads his band, Deep Blue."
On another front, "I'm an activist," Billie added. "I don't want to sit around yammering. I've held every office in the King City/Tigard Republican Women's Club except president, and I'm active with the Southwest Corridor Republicans. I'm also active with the Washington County Republicans and have been a precinct committeewoman since I arrived. I am part of a group that watches ballot counting during elections. A few years ago, 60 'dead' people voted in Washington County. That doesn't happen any more."
Billie was the chief petitioner for Ballot Measure 34-199 in the September 2013 election that requires a vote of the people before King City can spend money on public rail transportation.
Also in King City, Billie has arranged for organizations to provide refreshments for the Monthly Musicals since 2006, and she was president of the King City Civic Association Memorial Foundation for the past two years and is now the treasurer; she also served as treasurer for the Oregon Christian Writers organization
Billie has written several books, continues to write articles and shows up at many King City events. "In the meantime, life is very good at 85," she said.