Obituary: Billy Thomas Sterling

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Billy Thomas Sterling, age 93, of the Sardis Community, passed away Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2024 at Princeton Medical Center in Birmingham.

He was born July 16, 1930 to James and Ollie Echols Sterling. He grew up and worked on the family farm as the youngest of seven brothers and sisters.  He attended grade school at Map and transferred to Addison where he graduated in 1949. In Dec. of 1950, Billy enlisted in the Air Force and served in England as an Airman Second Class in the 123rd Fighter Bomber Wing during the Korean conflict.

Following his military service, Billy returned to Sardis and became a dairy farmer on the old Sterling homestead which was established in the 1890s. In addition to dairying, growing cotton, corn, hay, and sorghum, he also partnered with his brother Dick Sterling and operated the Sterling Cotton Gin; a business established by their father Jimmy. At the same time, Billy used the GI Bill to earn a bachelor’s degree in history from St. Bernard College in 1959.

Billy retired from the cotton gin and dairying business in the early 1970s. He later rebuilt and ran the store at Sardis and helped establish the Sardis Fire Department.  Still later, he raised cattle on the side, and found other work at the trailer plants at Addison as well as at the Sardis Truss factory on County Road 39. Billy stayed busy for his entire life.

Billy married the former Johnnie Evelyn Alford on June 24, 1954. Born to them were Robin Alford (Wanda) Sterling and Jane Ellen Sterling Lowery. Grandchildren include Amberley, Thomas, and Robert, daughter and sons of Jane and David Lowery. Great-grandchildren are Noah Bradford, Liam Lowery and Owen Lowery.

Sterling worked hard all his life and oversaw the transition of plowing by mules to air-conditioned cab tractors. In the early years when he wasn’t working, he enjoyed fishing on the Tennessee River and playing checkers in front of the old store at Sardis. He was practically unbeatable at checkers. In later years he enjoyed woodworking and watching the Atlanta Braves and the Alabama Crimson Tide on television. He was a regular breakfast patron at Jacks of Addison and enjoyed Swamp John’s as an occasional treat.

He was especially fond of his grandchildren and great grandchildren Billy possessed a kind, generous, and gentle spirit, who never raised his voice and enjoyed a funny joke or story with a twinkle in his eye. He spent several years providing care for his invalid wife, Evelyn. Following her death in 2013, he lived alone in the old house. When it was warm outside, he could often be found sitting in his swing set waving at motorists and chatting with an occasional visitor. 

Billy insisted on giving away small items he created in his wood shop including picture frames, shadow boxes, games, chairs, swing sets, and commemorative wooden Addison, Alabama, and Auburn logos. Billy was very sharp until the very end and kept up with politics and current events and remembered people and incidents from long ago for most of the last 100 years of Sardis history. Sterling was a pillar of the Sardis Community and was a longstanding deacon of the Sardis Baptist Church.

Visitation will be Friday, Feb. 2, 2024 from 12 p.m. until 2 p.m. at Sardis Missionary Baptist Church #2 (Sardis Community), where the service will be held at 2 p.m. Burial will be in the adjoining cemetery. Pastor William McClellan will officiate. Pallbearers will be Thomas Lowery, Robert Lowery, Mitchell Owens, Tommy Luker, Steve Powell, and Matt White.