Helene & Houston


Helene and Houston met at the drug store in Lawn soon after Helene started a summer job there after a year at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene. Houston and his father stopped at the soda fountain on their way from Abilene to Goldsboro where they were in the oil business. Helene said later she thought “Houston Tyree” was an interesting name, and Houston began stopping in the drugstore more and more often.

Houston and Helene were married December 21, 1929, in Lawn. Lawn was a wonderful small West Texas town with friendly people and many relatives and friends of Helene’s in town and on the surrounding ranches.

Helene’s father, Henry Barton (H. B. or “Ruff”) Cook was a pioneer rancher in the Abilene area and very active in civic and political matters, serving as Sheriff of Taylor County in 1896 and 1897.  Helene’s mother moved to West Texas at the age of 8 in a covered wagon with her parents, 4 brothers, and baby sister. As a young woman, Helene’s mother, Sallie Wells, played a small organ and led the singing as her father, George W. Wells, started Baptist churches all over West Texas.  After marriage she was very active in Lawn Baptist Church and the community for the rest of her life.

Helene’s parents met and were married in Abilene.  Their oldest child, Constance (Ky) was born in Abilene in 1901, but they soon purchased land in South Taylor County and moved to their ranch about 5 miles from Lawn.  Paul, Bond, Ruth, and Helene were born at the ranch.  Helene kept many pleasant memories of wildflowers when there was enough rain, running and playing with Ruth, helping Mama, lying on the strawstack to look at the clouds, Mama’s Sunday School for the neighboring boys on Sunday afternoon, and the antics of Bond’s pet crow, Blackie. 

Helene and her sister Ruth often rode a pony to school, two miles from the ranch. Later they took the train together to study at Mary Hardin Baylor, a school for girls in Belton, Texas, until their father became ill and died in May. Their mother moved to Abilene so Helene could finish high school and they could both attend Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene.

Houston’s parents met when his father, a young Methodist minister, visited Houston’s mother’s home to talk to her step-father, a Methodist minister in Huntington, West Virginia. Their first child, Woodson, was born in Wheeling, West Virginia, in 1900.  In the fall of 1902 they moved to Pikeville, Kentucky, where Mr. Tyree was pastor of the Methodist Church.  Houston was born March 2, 1903, and his sisters Joanna, Virginia, and Jacqueline (Jackie) soon joined the family.

When Houston was 5, his father took Woodson and Houston with him to  settle in Durant, Oklahoma, where he would practice law.  Soon Houston’s mother followed on the train with toddlers Joanna and Virginia and the baby, Jackie.  Two more children, Bill (W. F. Tyree, Jr.), and Andy (Andrew), were born in Durant.  Oklahoma had just become a state on November 16, 1907.

Durant was a good place to grow up.  The local college, now Southeastern Oklahoma State University, had an excellent school connected with the Education Department for the children to attend.  Memories included a large vegetable garden (both Woodson and Houston later claimed he had done all the garden work by himself), roses on the fence, a tennis court, native American country, and the story about the delicious tamales enjoyed from a street vendor until a large number of cats were discovered missing in town.

The older children attended the local college, and Woodson went to the University of Oklahoma in Norman.  Houston joined him there for one year, as they earned money by waiting on tables at a sorority house.  

Mr. Tyree moved the family to Dallas in the 1920s for an opportunity in the oil business, but Woodson stayed in Oklahoma where he taught in Ponca City and wrote an outdoor drama for the area.  Bill and Andy attended Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and Houston assisted Mr. Tyree as he opened up oil drilling in Goldsboro.   

After Houston and Helene were married, they enjoyed living in Goldsboro, just 7 miles south of Lawn.  Helene became the hostess as Mr. Tyree entertained businessmen out from Dallas to see the oil operation.  She learned to play bridge with some of the Goldsboro women, and Houston enjoyed hunting and fishing when he had time.  They drove up to Abilene often to take in a movie or have dinner at the nice Hilton Hotel with Mr. and Mrs. Tyree when she visited from Dallas.  All the Tyrees visited Goldsboro from time to time, and the Tyrees gathered frequently in Dallas just to visit and for holidays.

Sallie Virginia, their only child, was born while Houston and Helene were living in Hamlin, Texas, during the Depression.  After a few months spent in Dallas with Houston’s family, they moved to Lawn to live with Helene’s mother while Houston started a new job as a sales representative with Curtis Candy Company, thanks to Houston’s brother-in-law, Raymond Miller, Jackie’s husband, who was already working for Curtis in San Antonio. 

Life was good in Lawn, close to Helene’s family.  Houston hunted quail, fished for bass in tanks (ponds) on ranches and in lakes, refereed basketball at Lawn High School, and played tennis.  Helene enjoyed taking care of the home they rented in Lawn and looking after Sallie. 

Houston, Helene, and Sallie moved from Lawn in 1944 to Sulphur Springs, in East Texas, where they made many friends quickly and were active in the Methodist church. Helene and a friend began the Girl Scout program for Hopkins County, and Helene served as a Girl Scout leader.  Her troop had an excellent exhibit at the county fair. The family moved to Bryan, Texas in 1947, where they made many good friends and were active in the church. 

In 1949 they moved to Miami, Florida, at the invitation of Houston’s brother Andy to help in his growing aluminum business.  It was good to be near Andy and his wife Ellie (Elinor) and young children Andrea and Tom.  Virginia moved to Miami later, after Mrs. Tyree died in Dallas, and Andy and Ellie’s son Bobby (Robert) was born in a few years.  

Houston enjoyed playing tennis in his spare time, and Helene shared large pink grapefruit and key limes from the trees she tended in the back yard. She also rooted little lime trees to give to her many friends and neighbors. Books were important to Helene from a very young age, and she also spent spare time writing, including pieces about her experiences and observations and her autobiography.  Houston and Helene entertained a number of Tyree family members who made trips to Miami, and her sister Ruth and husband J.C enjoyed a visit, also.

When Houston became the Tennis Pro at Miami Shores Country Club in the 1960s, Helene enlisted a friend to teach her bookkeeping so that she could keep the Pro Shop books for Houston. She continued to keep meticulous personal financial ledgers and records after Houston’s retirement. Grandchildren Valerie and Ty always had a good time on long visits with “Grana” and “Grandang” in Miami Shores.

Houston suffered a head injury from a fall while playing tennis in 1978.  Helene cared for him in their home as he gradually declined physically and mentally. After his death in 1982, she remained in Miami until she decided to move to Raleigh in 1990, at the age of 80, to be near her family. She was very happy in her apartment in Raleigh, and she made many friends of all ages. She often noted she had lived “40 years in Texas and 40 years in Miami.”

In 1999, after a fall in West Virginia at a Tyree family reunion, Helene moved to an assisted living community in Raleigh. When she reached 90 years of age she began to wonder aloud if she would reach her 100th birthday. And she did. On October 4,, 2009, Helene had a wonderful 100th birthday party with her family and all the residents and staff, enjoying an excellent juggling show, a slide show of photos from her first 100 years, and ice cream with a very large cake decorated with roses because Helene’s middle name is Rose.

Helene’s health gradually declined, but she continued to enjoy eating, wheeling herself around the facility in her wheelchair, looking at the clouds and trees, and straightening or cleaning if she noticed any bit of lint, as she had done all her life. She often looked at the pines, oaks, poplars, and other tall trees and observed, “We don’t have tall trees like that in Texas.”

On October 4, 2010, at her 101st birthday celebration, Helene demonstrated her lifelong love of sweets as she enthusiastically ate a large piece of cake. Helene’s health began to decline rapidly after experiencing seizures on October 18, 2010. She died peacefully on Sunday, October 24, 2010, in Raleigh. 

Helene lived 40 years in Texas, 40 years in Miami, and 21 years in Raleigh.

Her remains have been returned to her beloved West Texas to rest beside Houston and near Mama, Papa, Ruth, Paul, Ky, and many other family and friends at Dewey Cemetery.

Helene and Houston are survived by their daughter Sallie Tyree Everette and husband John, their granddaughter Valerie Woods and husband Duncan, grandson John Tyree (Ty) Everette and fiancée Amy Gleason, nieces and nephews Doris Montgomery Hanks, Billie Ruff Cook Willis, Paul Cook, Jr., Jan Cook, Pete Tyree and wife Pat, Bill Tyree and wife Joanne, Neel Tyree and wife Beverly, Dick Miller and wife Joanne, Fenton Miller and wife Carol, Bill Miller and wife Carol, Jack Miller, Ellen Tyree, Andrea Tyree, Tom Tyree and wife Maxine, Robert Tyree and wife Mary, and many other Cook and Tyree extended-family members.


A Happy Couple


Helene and Houston were married in 1929 by Houston’s father at Helene’s mother’s home in Lawn, Texas, and they enjoyed a very happy marriage.