Sparkling Sylvia

People who pass away too young often possess that extra zest for living. They seem more adventurous, creative, passionate, and successful. Maybe some part of them knows they should squeeze the most of out their time here, as we all should. One of these was born to a modest family in Birmingham, England and lived her adult life all around the world. Sylvia Billinge, later Sylvia Reynolds and my mother, made her first stop in New York City working as a secretary in the Empire State Building. She there met an Air Force officer, Patrick Reynolds, with whom she and her new family made homes in Bangkok, Alaska, Puerto Rico, and bases across the continental United States.

To see a small example of her spirit, take a look at an interview she gave to Newsweek in 1964. British secretaries were in vogue. Some felt this limited the opportunity of American women seeking work, so an embargo was considered. It’s the type of immigration debate that continues even today. From the July issue of that year:

“For their part, English girls already beached in New York viewed the ban as, as best, a trifle lowbrow. Said blue-eyed, sparkling Sylvia Billinge, a 24-year-old stenographer now making about $100 in a Madison Avenue firm: “As there are plenty of vacancies, it does seem a pity. I know lots of girls at home who would like to spread their wings in America. I’m having a whale of a time.”

Thanks for reminding me to keep having a whale of a time, mom!

3 comments to Sparkling Sylvia

  • Sheila Langford

    Dear Mr. Reynolds,
    You won’t know me, but your mother Sylvia Catherine Billinge, was my best friend at junior school’ namely English Martyrs R.C. school in Sparkhill B’ham. England. We then passed our entry 11yr’s old for Harrison Barrow grammar school where we went on to make other ”best” friends but still were friends I remember her friend [we we’re not in the same class by now ] was a girl called Sylvia Todd ‘Toddy’ for short, i don;t know if they kept in touch over the years, but I lost touch with your mother when she went to America’,she did wtite to me but sadly I don’t know if I replied,scatty as I was in those far off days but I have always thought of her on her birthday which I believe was May 1’st. and for some reason I have been thinking of her lately maybe because I have been in touch with the son of our late music teacher and this has set the thought process in motion,so I decided to google her name and amazingly hit on your website, it seems I am too late to be able to speak to her which saddens me, especially when I think of visiting her house in Madeley Rd.
    She had an older sister Margaret and an older brother Clive and a very kind Mother.We lived in a working class area but so many of those children did well in various professions.I also have a son called Mark so we have that in common.
    I would love to know more about her adult life,as all my memories are childhood ones.
    Did she settle in N.Y. after her travels I have a large family there and in Long Island so I have been there a number of times I always wondered if she still lived there.
    My name was Sheila Gaine now Langford,E mail (saved)
    I would love to hear from you if you have time to reply.
    Sheila Langford.

  • Dear Mrs. Langford,

    How absolutely wonderful of you to write! You are spot on regarding Sylvia’s birthday and siblings, both of whom I’m certain will also love to see your note. Clive has a son and Margaret has two daughters and a grandson. Three years after me, Sylvia also had a daughter Jenny, who now has three children of her own. You may agree via the links below, that her granddaughter, Katie is the spitting image of her, as I do. =)

    My father Patrick Reynolds, was a life long New York-er and Sylvia became very close with our extended family there. We sprawl across those boroughs, so it would not surprise me if you and my mother were there at similar times. But dad was an Air Force navigator and Sylvia joined him on those remote assignments, even after I was born. (I was very popular as a blond infant in Asia, I’m told. Ha!) So while plenty of time was spent in the New York area we never actually lived there very long.

    Sylvia was an accomplished tennis competitor, artist, and entrepreneur. The best way to see her story may be to browse more of the photo gallery on this web site. I publish thousands of photos here, many of which are from long ago, that my father scanned, and I’ve organized here. I’ll include a few of the most descriptive links below.

    Again, it is lovely to receive your note and to connect with a friend of mom’s.

    My best,

    These are all the early days. Slides my father scanned. There are *32* pages linked at the bottom of each. (so be careful what you’ve asked for =)

    This is the web site of Jenny Kuglin, formerly Jenny Reynolds, Sylvia’s daughter and her family:

    I visit England every few years. A recent visit to the West Midlands area:

  • Sheila Langford

    Dear Mark,

    I was so pleased to get your reply.

    I’m glad that Sylvia had such a full and happy life. I am not surpised she was a memorable person, she showed that personality even as a child. I think the dimples had something to do with it!

    You say that you visit the West Midlands area, and that is where I live, in a place called Wychbold which is 10 miles from Worcester, and 30 miles from Birmingham. So, if ever, you are over in this area again, it would be great to make contact. My phone number is (saved).

    I enjoyed your pictures of Sylvia and was interested to hear about Margaret and Clive, but I don’t know they would remember me as it was so long ago.

    Thanks again for you reply,


    Sheila Langford (nee Gaine).

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