Debra Elaine Branch Mills died suddenly from a massive heart attack July 1 at her newly built, “Tournesol” dream home in Corsicana, Texas. A celebration of life service will be Monday, July 6 at North Cities United Pentecostal Church at 11 a.m. in Garland, Texas. A brief visitation, mindful of COVID requirements, is at 10:30 a.m. A Tuesday graveside service will be at 1 p.m. in her hometown of Shreveport, La., at Forest Park Cemetery preceded by a visitation from 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Osborn Funeral Home’s chapel with respect to COVID requirements.
Debra was born January 4, 1953 in Shreveport, La. to Dorothy and O.B. Branch. The oldest of two girls, she was a big sister in every way. Blessed with abundant gifts, she learned the skills of affability and ingenuity at an early age, overcoming leg perthes at age six. Having to wear a leg brace to school for a year, she figured out ways to remove it when out of adult sight so she could have fun with other kids. At eight years old she was baptized with the Holy Spirit at Bethany youth camp. An honor student, Debra graduated from Captain Shreve High School in 1970. She loved education, acquiring bachelor’s degrees in French and English Education from Northeastern State University in Monroe, a master’s in Liberal Arts from LSU-Shreveport, and a master’s in Theology Education from Southern Methodist University. She also pursued a number of college credits in architecture.
Debra was a born teacher, connecting easily with her students and imparting a love of aesthetics, culture, history, languages, Christian theology and life itself. She taught high school in Monroe, La., in Dallas, Texas, and at Byrd High School and First Baptist Church School in Shreveport. After getting her master’s degrees, she taught humanities, art history, and French for more than 20 years in the community college systems throughout the Dallas area, including Collin County, Navarro, Richland, Grapevine, and most recently at LSU-Shreveport. She also taught theology courses at the United Pentecostal Purpose Institute in Dallas, Texas and presented a seminar paper on Women in the Bible at Urshan Graduate School in St. Louis, Mo. While living in Shreveport, when presented with the need to teach Latin at Byrd High, she connected with the retiring Latin teacher who gave her materials, went home, and taught herself the language. She taught Latin successfully for seven years while she also ran the media design and consulting business she created, ESI Designs.
Debra was also a born salesman. She garnered experience while co-owning and operating Janitor Supply with Rick Mills, whom she married in 1971, then later worked as a salesperson for a Dallas technology design company. Whenever family members needed help selling houses or land, we called on her gifts of persuasion and she always produced results.
A truly renaissance person with an enviable sense of adventure, Debra had an eclectic variety of interests, all of which she excelled in. She loved travel, visiting France numerous times, Ireland, Scotland, Belgium, Italy, Russia, the Caribbean and the Holy Land. She made lifelong friends wherever she went, becoming an unofficial host to many exchange students she met on her trips. She took up painting later in life and sold pieces in various markets. The owner of five dogs, she was an avid lover of her Scottish terriers Molly, Agatha, and recently deceased Truffles, as well as her three Petit Basset Griffon Vendeens, loving her sweet Gigi and taking great pride in her champion Kira and her Grand Champion Herros from France. Debra carried her dad’s DNA in loving and connecting with animals, most recently acquiring three French geese, Lilly, Lela and Lila. She decorated houses, directed weddings, arranged flowers, and designed media plans for airports, universities and institutions. She basically could do anything she set her mind to do, and made sure it was fun for herself and anyone who chose to tag along. Unless, of course, you got on the wrong side of her. And then she was a force no one wanted to reckon with. A sharp eye for understanding when someone’s motives clashed with hers, she could be your best friend or your worst nightmare.
In the scope of her life, her heart was large and she loved people, making herself a cheerful burst of sunlight into whosever life she walked. In truth, she was everyone’s “big sister.” Defender, protector, go-to person for everything from fixing appliances to where to shop, many leaned on her for her willing helpfulness. And so many will be lost without her. Debra was a person who could get it done! She dreamed big and made her dreams happen. Debra wasn’t afraid of risks and knew both times of need and prosperity, but invariably whatever challenges she faced, her enterprising skills and faith in God pulled her out.
She loved hosting parties and family gatherings, providing the best in food and pleasantries. She loved spending time with her “grandgirls,” or as she affectionately called them, her three tornados! And, she loved to talk. We will miss most the stimulating conversations that covered everything from politics to the history of the Bible. Her opinions ran as strong as her depth of knowledge. Deeply devoted to God and His purpose, she often shared her faith and prayed daily for those she loved. Stories of her good works will continue to emerge after her death.
She is preceded in death by her parents, her maternal grandparents John and Margarette Doxey, her paternal grandparents, Ozzie Branch and Nettie Branch Windham, her uncle Jack Durr, and her niece Annalyse Hopkins.
She is survived by her son Joel Mills and wife Heather of Dallas, Texas, and their three children, the absolute loves of her life, Harleigh, Ellory and Mairyn Mills. She leaves one sister, Datha Branch Hopkins (Ted Hopkins) of Bossier, La., a nephew Jaron Hopkins of Dallas, Texas, and grandnieces Viviane Leonard, and Lorelai and Cordelia Monk of Bossier, La. as well as maternal twin aunts with whom she was very close, Margaret Durr and Margery Doxey of Shreveport, La. She leaves a host of “sister” friends to mourn her loss.
“Let not your heart be troubled...in my father’s house are many mansions...I go to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:1) Last Wednesday, Debra stepped from her French Country dream home into a beautiful heavenly mansion Jesus prepared just for her. She’s smiling there having left all pain and suffering behind and is waiting for us to sit down and chat with her once more.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorials be given to either North Cities United Pentecostal Church, 502 Beltline Rd, Garland, Tx. 75040, or to The Sanctuary, 1904 North Beaton St., Corsicana, Tx. 75110.
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