Whether it was her longevity, her dedication, her love or simply her smile, there may never be another like Billy Purcell, according to those who knew her.
The 91-year-old Davenport woman died Sunday in her home after serving as a crossing guard at the same location, 4th and Howell streets in Davenport, for 38 years. She also served school children at Monroe Elementary and Smart Intermediate schools until she retired in 2009 after suffering a heart attack.
“Billy Purcell was one in a million,” said David Struckman, retired Davenport police captain who worked in the police traffic division for years.
Crossing guards work through the police department. Some uniformed officers are expected to attend services for her.
“She was never a complainer. She loved all her “kids,” her daughter, Connie Harris of Davenport, said. “All the kids called her by name. They all had to stop and talk to her. My mother had an impact on everybody. She always made people feel good.”
Scores of former students have posted comments on the Smart school website and the Halligan-McCabe-DeVries Funeral Home website, sharing memories.
Pastor Galen Haegele of Sovereign Grace Missionary Baptist Church in Davenport, called Purcell the matriarch of the congregation.
“This October will be my 30th year there and she was there when I got here,” he said. “Billy was the oldest member of our church and Billy has been one of the mothers of our church. I never heard her say one derogatory word about anyone. She was a very humble person. That was her ministry, those kids she served.”
One of Purcell's granddaughters, Bobi Carson of Buffalo, said if Purcell heard that certain students needed hats and gloves in the winter, she would buy them and hand them out. “She even bought socks and underwear for them, too,” Carson said.
Another of Purcell's daughters, Billie Jo Law of Davenport, remembered the time when a motorist hit the accelerator instead of the brake and struck three her students. All three survived.
“But until they got better, my mom would go visit them every day after her shift,” Law said. “And she saved all her cards, every Valentine's, every school picture from those kids.”
Theresa Taylor of Davenport, remembers Purcell from when she was a young girl at Monroe.
“I was seven and I had this loose tooth,” she said. “I wanted it out because I wanted money from the Tooth Fairy. Well, Billy took care of it right at the crosswalk. She pulled it out.
“She knew all the kids' names. She was always like a grandmother to us. She was definitely an angel on earth.”