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Viking Valentines Tom Billings '72, '75G and Sheila Farren Billings '73, '91G

Sometimes, love happens in a wink.

“Nobody went to Salem State to meet a boy,” recalls Sheila Farren Billings ’73, ’91G. “You went to learn.” 

Nevertheless, one day, Sheila and her friends concocted a plan: “We said, ‘Oh, let’s wink at the next person we see that we think is cute, and see what happens.’” 

Soon after, while ascending the stairs in the Arts and Sciences building, she saw Tom Billings ’72, ’75G. 

“He’d been doing custodial work in the work-study program, and I’d seen him outside being all manly with a pick-axe. I thought he was handsome.” 

So she winked. 

Tom noticed.  

“I thought about the wink,” Tom recalls, “and wondered what her name was.” 

After a false identification, Tom tracked down the girl who winked as a cartoonist for The Salem State Log.  

A very Salem State romance ensued. The duo spent time together in the library, where Sheila – a dedicated student – liked to study; at campus events and protests; and at dates squeezed in between classes. Because Tom had a car and pocket money from his work-study job, he could take Sheila to “fancy places”—like lunch at Hawthorne by the Sea, their second date. 

The couple also attended mixers in the Campus Center and many concerts that came to Salem State. “We saw the Jesus Christ Superstar tour from New York; Grand Funk Railroad; Billy Preston; The Guess Who; and so many more,” Sheila recalls.  

The romance motivated Tom to earn his degree a year ahead of schedule so that he could secure a job and propose from a position Sheila’s father would approve of. The “plan,” as he calls it, worked: The couple wed and raised a family in Salem, where they lived for 47 years. Sheila taught in various schools on the North Shore, including Witchcraft Heights Elementary School and Beverly High; Tom was a history teacher for 22 years, many at St. John’s Prep. 

The couple also earned graduate degrees from Salem State to further their careers – and later, after earning a doctorate, Tom returned to Salem State as a faculty member in education.  

“He was the only member of the custodial staff that became a professor,” Sheila says with pride. “And in the same building he used to clean!”  

But one of Tom’s proudest accomplishments is personal: “I’m still married to the only girl I ever kissed.” 

“It sounds unbelievable because he’s adorable,” Sheila interjects, “but it’s true!” 

Nodding, Tom muses: “Salem State pretty much did it all for us.” 

Written by Professor Rebecca Hains PhD 

Alumni Relations
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