Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children

 

1973 to 1982

Eulogy for Mildred Odessa Gilliam

by Elizabeth Hudman Corwin

Mildred Gilliam, 92, who served 29 years (1946-1975) as housemother at the Baptist Children's Home in Oklahoma City, died April 21, 2006 in Mena, Arkansas.

Survivors include two brothers, John and Ben, and two sisters, Freida May Allinder and Edna Jewell Rogers.

My name is Elizabeth Hudman Corwin and I spent many years in the Baptist Children's Home in Oklahoma City with Miss Mildred Gilliam.

There are many words that characterize the life of "Miss Mildred" as we knew her as children and "Millie" as we knew her as a friend and peer. We are here to celebrate her life today.

Millie loved God, her biological family, her church, pastors and her "kids." And how many are her kids, of which Bill and I are just two? "dozens"; No, hundreds! She loved the naughty ones as well as the obedient ones - not too many of the latter, I'm afraid. I am her daughter by circumstance, but her daughter nonetheless.

When we assisted Millie in moving from her apartment several years ago, she gave me a handful of memorabilia, among which was this script.

"I moved to Lawton (Oklahoma) in 1941 and joined First Baptist Church. I worked in Logan's Grocery store and in April 1946 we began to sell beer. This really bothered me.  Every Sunday we read the church covenant, then I would sell beer all week.  So I prayed that the Lord would show me what to do.

"In June that same year there was a call for workers in the Baptist Messenger, a whole page (Display Ad). They needed a nurse, housemothers, and cooks. I thought I could be a housemother. I read it over again and went back to work at Logan's. But every time I went to my room, I picked up that Messenger and read it again. This bothered me so much, I went to see my pastor, Dr. Tom Wiles, and on September 1, 1946, I came to work at the Baptist Children's Home as housemother for 21 little boys ages 2 years to 9.

"The boys were a lot of fun, and a lot of care... One thing that bothered me was the boys tattled. So one day a boy came in to tell on another boy." In an inventive way Millie came up with a plan to reduce the tattling. 'I gave him a wet cloth and said, 'How about washing the steps for me?' He did and went back out to play. After two or three others tattled and got the wet cloth to wash the stairs, the tattling stopped and the steps, believe me, were the cleanest at the Home!

Millie continued... "I attended Trinity Baptist Church and if you have never sat with 8 to 10 wiggling, squirming five and six-year-olds, you have missed something. You never know how much children hear even though they can't sit still. One five-year-old had a broken arm and it was in a cast. He was so restless I finally sat him on my lap, but he continued to wiggle and squirm despite my admonitions. I thought this child wasn't hearing a thing. About this time the pastor was making a point and said, (as he paraphrased) 'For God so loved YOU...' The little boy spoke up in a loud voice and said, 'That's wrong, its For God so loved the world.'"

Another time a new boy was having trouble settling down in church. I said, "If you don't settle down, I am going to spank you when we get home." He gave me a hard look and said, 'You are not my housewife!' Of course he meant housemother."

Millie told me a friend once said to her that a woman who did not know her had commented on how sorry she felt for the woman with all those stair-step children whose husband never came to church with her.

One thing that irked the houseparents at the Home was when we would go out in the big, yellow bus with Baptist Orphan's Home on the side, we would roll down the windows and sing at the top of our lungs what we called our theme song, "Sometimes I feel like a motherless child." We enjoyed the stern looks.

Millie served as housemother, receptionist, activities director, and assistant personnel supervisor to her dear friend and colleague, Edith Stinson.  Her last post was as health supervisor. one year she made 256 trips to the dentist, 242 to the doctor, and watched over boys and girls during seven surgeries, sometimes sleeping on the floor beside the bed of the youngster in the hospital.

When Millie retired on September 27, 1975, her pastor, Robert Scales, spoke of her faithfulness to her church and her tasks at the Orphan's Home (the only home in town with a neon sign in front.) "The Home has never known a more faithful and dedicated worker. Unselfishness is the word that best describes Miss Mildred. She is a very versatile person and will probably do a little of everything before the day ends."

When I graduated from high school in 1952, Millie was present when we were informed that no longer did we have a choice about which university we would attend (courtesy of the Baptists in Oklahoma) but would be required to attend Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee if we chose to go to college. My sarcastic reply at the time was, "All you want is for us to marry some dumb 'ole preacher!" She was very amused when a "preacher man stole my heart" and she reminded me of my statement. (To Bill - By the way, have I ever apologized for saying that?)  She immediately adopted Bill as her kid as she did other husbands and wives of the Home kids.

Millie fell in love once, and he was a very nice man. All her kids knew by the way she acted when this guy was around. We teased her unmercifully. We talked about this guy years later, and I asked her what happened that she never married him.  "It just never worked out,"  she replied, "but that is all right. I have been very content in my life.

Millie was a wonderful ambassador of God's love and goodwill for the Home among doctors, dentists, nurses, school personnel, caretakers, and patients at the Nursing and Rehab Center here in Mena. When four of her kids went to visit her after her stroke recently, we sat and chatted as she took a long time to finish her meal. Fiercely independent always, she declined our offer to assist her with her eating. We noticed she left her vegetables and ate her pumpkin pie. We reminded her that she certainly would have scolded us, in times past, had we done the same thing.  She just gave a wry smile and conceded the point.

We always brought her chocolates and she nibbled as she showed us photos, cards, and letters from family and her kids. When we suggested that since she was unable to make the usual shopping trip to WalMart that we would pick up something for her. She couldn't think of anything she needed or wanted, but when we persisted that surely there was some small item she lifted her chin and mumbled, "Okay, bring me a million dollars." Always a sense of humor, our Millie.

Mildred Odessa Gilliam was a woman of integrity with a servant's heart. She was loving, dedicated, tenacious, unselfish, versatile, faithful, independent, trusting, and trustworthy - sounds like a Saint - okay, I'll vote for her!

A prayer I found in Millie's memorabilia -

God Touch My Life

God, touch my ears that I may hear,
Above death's din, Thy voice ring clear;
God, touch my eyes that I may see,
The tasks Thou'd have me do for Thee;
God, touch my lips that I may say
Words that reveal the Narrow Way;
God, touch my hands that I may do
Deeds that inspire men to be true;
God, touch my feet that I may go
To do Thine errands here below;
God, touch my life that I may be
A flame that ever glows for Thee.

With the permission of the family, I would like to represent all of Millie's kids today, some of whom are Mary, Patricia, Evelyn, Correna, Eugene, Jim, Priscilla, Floyd, Jack, George, Sammy, Royce, Eudora, Bertha, David...and all the rest scattered across the earth, as we celebrate a life well lived of "Miss Mildred," "Millie." We will miss her, but she is "Safe in the arms of Jesus."

Our love goes with her and our souls wait to join her.



Go to top of page

Your gifts help provide hope and homes for children.

DONATE NOW