Although they didn’t know each other as children, both were sharing in a love of music that resulted in their arrival at Lee College (Lee University) in the same year — 1954. She was a lovely 19-year-old student from Zellwood, Fla. He was her handsome 26-year-old professor from Elk Valley.
The moment he laid eyes on her, the second she set eyes on him, something changed and music became a catalyst for uniting them in a bond that would draw them closer and closer.
“I remember when she enrolled in my class,” Eddie said. “I remember what she had on. She wore a blue corduroy jumper. And I thought to myself, ‘I sure would like to date her.’ I do not remember anyone else enrolling, but I do remember her! I noticed her smile, her blue eyes, her kind and sweet spirit.”
In the days and weeks that followed, Eddie said he noticed Irma had a good name on campus and had outstanding moral values. At the same time, bubbly teenager Irma Billette could not help but notice that her professor was not only tall, dark and handsome, but was a charming gentleman who knew how to handle himself with female admirers.
The more she noticed her professor, the more she felt attracted to him, admitting, “I just began to admire him. He came from a good family. His dad’s a minister. I liked the way he carried himself. He was very musical. I liked that he was a man of character.”
Little did they know how similar their lives really were. Both had been brought up in the Church of God and came from a strong Pentecostal heritage. Both had accepted Christ at the age of 9, and both had been groomed for a life of inspirational music. In fact, Eddie’s pursuit of a music ministry was just getting started when he graduated from Lee with an associate of arts degree in 1950, and a bachelor of arts in music in 1952, from Birmingham-Southern College in Alabama.
It was at the Alabama Camp Meeting in the summer of 1954, when Dr. R. Leonard Carroll, then president of Lee, recruited Eddie to be the Music Department Chairman at Lee college. But Eddie suddenly knew, the moment he saw Irma, that he had found his perfect complement — the one he wanted to share his life and ministry with.
Day after day, with every class, a mutual admiration was simmering between the two. Finally, in the second semester, a mutual friend told the professor Irma liked him.
“You didn’t do that back then,” Irma said, smiling. “But I didn’t know.”
It was, in fact, all the professor needed to know. While Irma joined and sang in a ladies quartet, Eddie joined and sang in a mens quartet, allowing them to perform programs together. Now that their lives were in tune with each other, the two found it impossible to resist becoming a couple.
“This is when we began to date,” Eddie said. “We were in Jellico to do a music program for the local Church of God. I took Irma over to Elk Valley to meet my grandmother, which was unusual. On the way back home I made arrangements for Irma to ride with me. The other girls were asleep in back and Irma and I were chatting. By the end of the school term she was my social life. Everything else was gone. Irma was the focus.”
Eddie looked off, as if revisiting the moment that changed his life forever, and confessed, “The first time I kissed her it was music. I didn’t hear angels singing, but it was music. There was a true spark. I’ve told her in recent years, ‘I’ve loved you all my life, I just didn’t know your name.’”
When she went home during school break, Irma said Eddie wrote her every day — sometimes twice a day until he arrived there in person.
“He was suppose to go to Maryland to work music in some of the camps and services there,” she said. The first night I was there I proposed. She finally said, ‘Yes, I’ll marry you.’ And my response was, ‘How soon? How soon?’” They both laughed.
Within 10 months after they first met in September 1954, Eddie Williams and Irma Billette were wed, on July 27, 1955, in her hometown of Zellwood with his father performing the ceremony, to the delight of many.
The happily married couple returned to Lee for one more year before moving to Fort Worth, Texas, in August 1956 to serve as the pastors of Northside Church of God. Together they served pastorates in Germany, Texas, Alabama, North Carolina, Missouri, Georgia and Tennessee, where they reside together.
With their combined musical talents they have published more than 200 hymns, gospel songs and children’s songs, with thought-provoking poems, children’s books and song books — compact discs, albums, cassettes and DVDs — including two read-along, sing-along CD series — one called, “Mama Said” and another, “Grandma Said.”
Eddie, who was given an accordion and music lessons as a child and was his father’s musician in church, said, “I think music was providential as an anchor point in my life to give me focus and to eventually lead me to the person who would be my wife and my companion in our ministry. Wherever we served, music was part of it. When we went to Germany, there I was — playing an Italian accordion in Germany, playing gospel music — and that was an opener in our relationships there.”
Irma, who graduated from Northwest Bible College with a bachelor of science degree, added, “I could not imagine my life without music. I would not be the person I am. God is a God of music and He has put music in my soul. I sing constantly. I love music. I love to sing in church. When I say God is my Savior and music is my life — it’s all intertwined. It’s a gift of God and I cannot thank Him enough for His love and mercy, and the music in my life. Then to give me a companion who loves music and who writes is such a double blessing that I don’t know how to give Him enough thanks.”
Having come from similar backgrounds, with similar interests and talents, Eddie and Irma make for a couple who knows from experience what it takes to make beautiful music together and the keys to a successful marriage.
“Our parents had strong marriages, even through adversities,” Eddie said. “We came from strong marriages as our role model. Plus, we had the same religious beliefs. So there was no kind of struggle going on between beliefs and we were both committed to serve the Lord.”
Irma added, “We have the same Pentecostal heritage and I think that matters when you can share the same beliefs in your marriage. I think that’s a big factor. It’s been a plus for us.”
Both said they feel extremely blessed, despite the fact they both had cancer and other trials throughout their marriage — but they met them with faith, hope and love for each other and the Lord.
“We have had joys and sorrows, and we have known happiness and pain, but we both would marry each other again,” Irma said. “We were a gift to each other.”
“As I’ve gotten older, I did not realize that one man could love his wife so much,” Eddie said, looking at his Irma. “I had no comprehension of that when I got married. I knew I loved her. I loved her deeply. But as time has gone along, I realize that I had no idea that there could be such depth of love in my heart.”
The Cleveland couple remain active in their music and ministry together — he, preaching and playing the organ as well as his Italian Dallapé accordion, she, singing, playing the piano and writing about things they both find impossible to be silent on — marriage, music and love.
Eddie and Irma were blessed with a son, Michael, and his wife, Rhonda; a daughter, Dr. Marsena and her husband, Mark Webb; two grandchildren, Shaun and his wife, Jenifer; Kristina and her husband, Travis; and five great-grandchildren: Michael Skyler, Haley, Griffin, Alex and Emily.