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In memoriam: Denton bids farewell to local leaders, characters in 2017

Profile image for Lucinda Breeding
Lucinda Breeding

Denton bid farewell to influential businessmen, artists, volunteers and leaders in 2017.

Lamar Ball (1940-2017) 

Members of Denton's financial community credit Lamar Ball with saving First State Bank in Denton. Ball, a Tennessee native who became the CEO of the local bank in 1989, built the bank through acquiring smaller community banks. When he left his post in the late 1990s, the local bank had more than quadrupled its assets.

After he left banking, Ball started a company that creates alcohol detection technology for cars, and invested in other companies.

Ball died after diagnosis and treatment for myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood disorder that can lead to cancer. He was 76 when he died in March.

Robert B. Toulouse (1918-2017) 

North Texas higher education lost a major figure when Robert B. Toulouse died in April. He was provost emeritus of the University of North Texas and the longtime dean of the UNT graduate school, which was named for him.

Robert B. Toulouse, provost emeritus of UNT and longtime dean and namesake of the university's graduate school, died at the age of 98.Courtesy photo
Robert B. Toulouse, provost emeritus of UNT and longtime dean and namesake of the university's graduate school, died at the age of 98.
Courtesy photo

Toulouse spent his higher education career at UNT. He started out as an assistant professor in the College of Education in 1948. His greatest contributions came while he was dean of the graduate school from 1954 to 1982. During his tenure, graduate enrollment surged from roughly 400 students to nearly 5,500. UNT named the Robert B. Toulouse School of Graduate Studies in his honor in 1990.

Toulouse helped make UNT one of the three largest graduate institutions in the state by the 1980s and the most comprehensive graduate institution in the North Texas region.

He was 98.

Celeste Williams (1951-2017) 

Celeste Williams had her work cut out for her. 

The Denton High School graduate went on to the University of North Texas. She was a rare bird: a woman who wrote about sports for newspapers, starting in Seguin and bouncing around the country. 

Celeste Williams, a Denton High and UNT graduate, died at age 65 in May. She was the senior sports editor of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram since 1999. 
Celeste Williams, a Denton High and UNT graduate, died at age 65 in May. She was the senior sports editor of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram since 1999. 

Williams covered sports at the Houston Post and the Houston Chronicle, with an early stint at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1989. She reported for the Orlando Sentinel, Sporting News, Chicago Sun-Times, Kansas City Star, The Dallas Morning News and San Antonio Express-News and finally landed at the Star-Telegram a second time. She was named senior sports editor of the Star-Telegram in 1999.

Williams was remembered for her smarts, for her gentle touch as a boss, for her undying devotion to rescuing dogs (and one bird), her love of Pearl Jam and Wilco, and a candy jar full of mini candy bars and Twizzlers.

Williams died of cancer at age 65 in May.

Bill DeBerry Sr. (1932-2017) 

Bill DeBerry Sr. spent 64 years helping families in North Texas grieve and pay final respects to loved ones.

Bill DeBerry Sr.
Bill DeBerry Sr.

DeBerry, the owner of Bill DeBerry Funeral Directors, came to Denton in 1958 to study at UNT. He worked for J.B. Floyd at Schmitz-Floyd- Hamlett Funeral Home before opening his own funeral home in 1990. As the director of his own funeral home, DeBerry served families as they navigated some of the most difficult moments of life.

DeBerry's legacy is carried on by his sons, Bill DeBerry Jr. and Andrew DeBerry.

Bill DeBerry Sr. died at age 84 in May after a brief illness.

Kathy Orr (1944-2017) 

Kathy Orr is remembered as a witty woman who supported Denton's civic causes with her time and her service.

Orr was a native of New Mexico, but made her way to North Texas through Braniff Airlines as a flight attendant. She waited to go to college until later in life, and studied at Dallas Baptist University, Texas Woman's University and Southern Methodist University. She started working in real estate in 1985, a field she worked in until her death.

Orr volunteered generously. She was a founding member of the Denton Benefit League. She served on the North Texas Fair board of directors and the Thin Line Fest board and was the admissions director for the Selwyn School. She was a member of Greater Denton Arts Council, The Arts Guild, the Denton County Women's Golf Association and the Denton Country Club, where she loved to play golf.

She died at age 73 in July.

Paul Voertman (1929-2017) 

Paul Voertman died at age 88 in June, but his mark will last long in Denton.

In 1952, Voertman took over a general store his parents had opened back in 1925, eventually turning it into Voertman's, a college bookstore serving University of North Texas students as well as the faculty and staff.

Paul Voertman, shown at his Denton home in 2011, died at age 88 in June. DRC file photo
Paul Voertman, shown at his Denton home in 2011, died at age 88 in June. 
DRC file photo

He enriched Denton through donations to arts, poverty programs and public health. His most memorable gifts are the pipe organ that bears the name of his family and his late life partner, Richard Ardoin. He launched juried art competitions and bequeathed about $8 million for scholarships to UNT.

Mary Evelyn Blagg Huey (1922-2017) 

Long dedicated to education, Mary Blagg Huey left her mark on Denton chiefly through her years at Texas Woman's University.

Huey earned her bachelor and master's degrees in English and music from TWU, then known as Texas State College for Women, in 1942. She stayed the following two years to teach English. She left Denton to work at the University of Mississippi and to earn a second master's degree, this time at the University of Kentucky. She got her doctorate at Duke University.

Texas Woman’s University President Emerita Mary Evelyn Blagg Huey speaks at Hubbard Hall after receiving a Founders’ Day award from the university.
Texas Woman’s University President Emerita Mary Evelyn Blagg Huey speaks at Hubbard Hall after receiving a Founders’ Day award from the university.

She taught at UNT from 1947 to 1971. Huey made the trek back across town to take the job of dean of the graduate school at TWU. In 1976, she became the president of TWU, a position she held until 1986. The campus library is named for her.

She was 95 when she died in June.

Patsy Cross Patterson (1929-2017) 

The former co-owner of the Denton Record-Chronicle is remembered for her years at the local newspaper, and for her contributions to Denton's culture and arts scene.

Patterson's parents, Riley and Vivian Cross, owned the newspaper, and Patterson grew up in the business.

Educated at the University of Texas' journalism program, she rose through the reporting ranks of the local paper to act as the society editor, and then eventually became the secretary of the paper's board of directors. She married Fred Patterson in 1958, and the couple became co-owners of the Record-Chronicle. But Patsy Patterson retired from the business because her father didn't think a married couple should work together.

Patsy Cross Patterson
Patsy Cross Patterson

Patterson was president of The Arts Guild and president of the Denton Community Theatre. She was a charter member and past president of the Denton Benefit League. She helped raise money to build a sorority house at UNT, and with her husband helped every effort from the Denton Holiday Lighting Festival and the Denton Arts & Jazz Festival.

She was 88 when she died in August.

J.R. Byrd (1980-2017) 

Denton musician J.R. Byrd, a native of Seattle, was fluent on piano, guitar, bass and saxophone.

He earned a degree in jazz studies at UNT and formed his own band, By Starlight. He was the contemporary worship leader at Flower Mound Methodist Church, then became the co-worship leader for Mosaic Worship at First United Methodist Church of Denton with his wife, Laura.

Byrd died in October at age 36 after a short battle with cancer.

Mike Brice (1962-2017) 

Mike Brice was the city manager of Sanger from 2007 to 2017, and served as assistant city manager of Chickasaw, Oklahoma, before that.

Brice was a second-generation firefighter, serving most of his 20 years in the Nichols Hills, Oklahoma, fire department.

Brice is remembered as a family man who loved the beach. He died in October at the age of 55.

Olive Lee Stephens (1916-2017) 

Olive Stephens was the mayor of Shady Shores for 38 years.

Remembered — and celebrated — for her political acumen and her gumption, Stephens played a major hand in taking Shady Shores from a wide spot in the road to a municipality that levied its first property taxes in 2000.

Shady Shores Mayor Olive Stephens, is pictured at the Community Center in Shady Shores at age 88.Dallas Morning News file photo
Shady Shores Mayor Olive Stephens, is pictured at the Community Center in Shady Shores at age 88.
Dallas Morning News file photo

Stephens wasn't too precious for hard work. She kept gloves, a shovel and tools in her car for decades so that she could hop out and fill a pothole.

Friends, neighbors and constituents honored Stephens, who died at 101 after suffering a stroke, by naming a garden and a public facility after her, and Denton ISD named an elementary school after her.

Janice LaPointe-Crump (1942-2017)

Janice LaPointe-Crump was a dancer and dance educator for decades in Denton. She taught dance at both UNT and TWU. She spent decades at TWU, researching, writing, choreographing and teaching.

LaPointe-Crump choreographed for the local theater scene, and volunteered for the Greater Denton Arts Council and the Denton Civic Ballet. She served on national and international associations.

LaPointe-Crump died on Christmas Day after a two-year battle with ovarian cancer. She was 75.