A Look Back With a Beloved Texan — Billie Leigh Rippey
The Sought-After Fundraiser and Community Leader Passed Away at 90 Years OldBY Billy Fong // 02.14.22
I was saddened to hear of the passing of the incredible Billie Leigh Rippey. She will always occupy real estate in my heart due to her kind spirit and exceedingly generous soul. I was fortunate to get to know her when I profiled her as my “She’s the Bomb” in our October 2018 issue, which we’re sharing today in digital form below.
Billie Leigh would serve me cookies and tea whenever I was invited to her lovely home, and would always end each visit at the door by saying “kisses.” For the past few years, I would always receive a call on my birthday as she lived in an analog world, not the somewhat generic digital one filled with texts and emojis for well wishes. I will be sad this June not to hear her voice.
As I walked into the brightest house — vibrant sunshine yellow — on the block, I was given an ebullient embrace from this month’s Bomb girl, Billie Leigh Rippey, who was resplendent in head-to-toe, tone-on-tone shades of pink-lemonade pink.
Billie Leigh is a Houstonian by birth — hers is the Morgan Oil family. Her mother, Billie Fondren Morgan, was the great-great-great-granddaughter of the second governor of Texas (George Tyler Wood). The family moved from Texas to Shreveport, Louisiana, when Billie Leigh was in fifth grade. There, she was a Byrd High School cheerleader, learning the pep and infectious spirit that remains with her today. It makes sense that she was also a song-and-dance girl. In fact, Billie Leigh was so well known that Hollywood talent scouts approached her family about coming to Tinseltown for screen tests.
Can’t you imagine Billie Leigh paired with the fresh-faced talent of the times? In retrospect, she and Debbie Reynolds seem separated at birth.
As a coed at Southern Methodist University, this month’s Bomb spied a photograph of a dashing football player and remarked to her girlfriend, “What amazing legs he has.” That football hero and big man on campus was Bill Rippey. He was smitten at first sight with Billie Leigh’s fiery spirit and glowing girl-next-door beauty. They married in 1953, and he graduated from SMU law school the following year. Billie Leigh immediately became a working girl. She was a copy chief at Sam Bloom Advertising and had a short stint as society editor at the Dallas Morning News when then society editor Ann Donaldson pleaded that she desperately needed a vacation and asked cub reporter Billie Leigh to step in.
Billie Leigh’s grandmother, Matye Whitehead-Fondren, was a fashion designer in Houston. When Matye would visit New York City, she always stayed at The Plaza Hotel. She was a beauty often mistaken for silent-film legend Theda Bara, which led Matye to sometimes sign autographs as Theda. Like her grandmother, Billie Leigh adores Manhattan and spent a decade commuting back and forth, encouraging Texas girls to make their debuts there. Billie Leigh was offered the chance to play Phoebe Tyler’s Texas cousin. (Yes. That Phoebe Tyler. From All My Children.) Apparently, the casting director encountered our effervescent Billie Leigh on a few occasions and thought she would make the perfect Lone Star relation for the grande dame of Pine Valley. Alas, she didn’t take the plum role — and we are all the better, as she channeled all that creative zeal into the many organizations she’s passionate about in Dallas.
This month’s Bomb Girl never rests. She is the mother of two daughters, Tricia Besing and Paige Locke; a grandmother; and a great-grandmother. Her charity work is well known: In 40 years, she has rarely missed a Crystal Charity Ball; she’s a member of the Tiffany Circle of the American Red Cross and was heavily involved with Dallas Summer Musicals.
Aside: I was a secret fan of the megawatt 1990s pop band The Spice Girls. Maybe I have been trying to form my own version of that group through my selection of Bomb girls. We’ve definitely had some Posh Spices and BabySpices. But, with Billie Leigh, we finally have a Sporty Spice! She spent hours every day practicing figure skating as she dreamed of becoming the next Sonja Henie.
Unfortunately, when the family moved to Shreveport, it was a town without an ice rink, so she focused on tennis and golf. When we happened upon her image for this column, I knew the time had come for our Sporty Spice Bomb.com.
APPROXIMATE DATE OF THIS PHOTO.
Annual tennis tournament: The Pike’s Peak Pow Wow at Garden of the Gods Club, Colorado Springs. I have so many fond memories of time spent there with Bill, the girls, and our wonderful hosts, the Hill family.
WHAT YOU WERE WEARING.
Ted Tinling. I much preferred skirts and would normally stay in my tennis togs and go straight from the court to lunch.
WHAT PRICE FASHION.
I guess I have always been lucky. Bill loved buying me clothes. His mother loved Chanel, and so he knew from an early age that it was a fast way to a woman’s heart. He spent a bloody fortune. I would spend hours during the holidays unwrapping gifts. The same with jewelry. He would hide gifts in the kitchen since he knew I was seldom in the kitchen.
WHY THIS IS A BOMB.COM PICTURE.
At that time in my life, I was well known for my tennis acumen. Tennis was best played in a prime place and with a prime outfit — all a recipe for being a winner.