I met Lee Billings sometime in 2001, in the Cranky Editors group on LiveJournal. Lee was well-spoken, intelligent, and assertive; she was also friendly and genuinely cared about her friends, and while optimistic she was also a realist. She knew what was possible and what it took to make things happen. She was also unashamed to be a feminist, and didn’t care if people thought she was “outspoken.” She was also one of the few people I knew who would hold firm to her beliefs, but was willing to assess and adjust her beliefs when she had new information. She was definitely not rigid in her ideals, but she held firm to what she knew was right and just.
We met in person at some point that year and she invited me to the Sunday lunch group she attended, also known as “Bagels.” What struck me most about Lee was that she wasn’t afraid to be loud and to make her opinions known. I was accustomed to dancing around difficult subjects, hiding my opinions, and preferring to “be nice” instead. Where I was afraid of being seen as “too aggressive,” Lee was afraid of being seen as a pushover and having people trample her beliefs.
Lee was a positive example in my life when I needed one. She was always willing to give me good advice and listen to me, even when I didn’t want advice or didn’t think I needed it. Lee was practical in advising me through difficult situations, and was never one to merely say, “It’s okay. Don’t worry about it.” We shared common backgrounds in family life, and she understood where I was coming from, and where I needed to be if I wanted to move my life forward and become my own person. Lee was one of the friends I needed the most, even when I was afraid to need people.
I looked up to Lee as a friend and a mentor, and I appreciated her advice. But I also appreciated her giving me a space to sit and unclench my jaw, relax my shoulders, unfurrow my brow. I expanded my circle of friends when I joined Bagels, I started being a little more open, I ventured out a little more. I started being more assertive and letting my opinions be known, even though I was still afraid of being “too aggressive,” but I wasn’t afraid of success and of reaching out for what I wanted and where I wanted to be. Life never turns out exactly the way you want it to, but I saw Lee and always thought to myself that I could change what I wanted to do and what I wanted to be, without worrying about what other people thought about me.
Lee had been a programmer by profession, but she was also a musician, a singer, and a dancer. She made jewelry when her programming specialty dried up and was replaced by a newer coding model, and turned it into her profession. She and her partner, Russ, went around the con circuit selling shirts and bumper stickers aimed at nerds, geeks, pagans, and anyone else who didn’t feel like they fit into the mainstream. I still wear jewelry I bought from her. I still have the Volde-Mart tote bag they gave me. Lee was a regular in the filk and contradance communities. She had friends everywhere, and it seemed like every person I met would say, “Oh, you know Lee? She’s great. I know her from….”
Lee had been diagnosed with and beaten breast cancer before. When she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer I figured she would beat this as well. Lee was strong-willed and independent. I suppose I always thought she could beat back any ailment or injury through sheer force of will. Lee passed away this year, on November 22. I don’t know that I can truly quantify the impact she had on my life, or that she had on other peoples’ lives. I do know that I am forever grateful for her friendship, and my life was better for having had her as a friend.