1000 x 90

Death of Blowing Rock’s Betty Pitts Leaves Tremendous Void in Community

By Sherrie Norris

The death of Betty Pitts on Sunday, June 3, has left a tremendous void in the town of Blowing Rock as she represented all that was good in the quaint village she called home.

While her passing was not exactly a surprise to those who knew her and her family, her death denotes the end of an era, the completion of a life well lived on this earth.

Betty Pitts, the heart of Blowing Rock, will always be remembered for her generosity and kindness to others. Photo courtesy of the Pitts family.

Living to be 88 years of age, Betty embodied the characteristics of the woman described in the Bible, the book she so dearly loved and after which she patterned her life. The Proverbs 31 woman clearly describes Betty, whose family called her blessed, one who worked willingly with her hands and cared for others, who stretched out her hands to the poor and needy, who opened her mouth with wisdom — a woman who feared the Lord.

Yes, as the accolades pouring in to the Pitts family clearly note, she will be missed. However, the life she lived, the influence she had — not only in her beloved Blowing Rock, but upon the High Country, in general — will be felt for a long time to come in many ways, It was a sad day when we, as her friends and family, learned months ago that a dreaded medical diagnosis was taking its toll on her once healthy, active body, and that her life expectancy was limited.

It’s very possible that the news bothered us much more than it did Betty Pitts. Her faith in God and hope for an eternal life in the heaven she talked about openly and unashamedly — and longed for — was a comfort to her. She was confident that better days were ahead, regardless of the outcome.

Whether in personal conversations through the years, through email messages and her weekly column in the Blowing Rocket, Betty never missed an opportunity to talk about God. She was known as a prayer warrior who publicly presented a prayer list of those on her heart through her column, along with Bible verses, her perspective on life and how it should be lived — and always offering words of encouragement that could brighten the darkest of days. She never forgot birthdays or anniversaries and always was the first to congratulate someone on an accomplishment or milestone.

Her personal foundation of faith was paramount to the life she led and in the way she treated others and served her community.

Betty was a rare jewel who “walked the walk and talked the talk.” She didn’t just talk about doing good, she did it. In one of her last columns, written May 24, 2018, (dictated to her daughters and thus emailed to some of us lucky ones prior to publication, as she always did,) included the first Bible verse she ever learned to recite — “ Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” Luke 6:31. “It is so wonderful that a verse so simple that a child can learn to recite it is such bedrock to live by,” she said.

The Bedrock of Blowing Rock

No one can discount that any individual has had more influence on life in Blowing Rock than has Betty Pitts. She was a community advocate in every sense of the word, and worked diligently through the years to help make it the place it is today. She has been recognized on numerous occasions for her selfless giving of time and talent.

Perhaps her contributions to the Blowing Rock Hospital were among her most noted acts of giving. She often said that she had been around longer than the hospital itself, gave birth there to five of her seven children, including her first born at “the old clinic.” She was honored, she said, to have always been part of the hospital and do whatever she could to help.

In 2013, she was named chairwoman of the fashion show and luncheon, a fundraiser held annually to benefit the hospital. When the announcement was made, nearly 50 people, mostly women, attended an afternoon tea in her honor, adorned in hats as a way to show their love for the honoree who loved hats of all kinds.

Longtime friend and associate Suzanne Miller described Betty on that occasion as one whose impact upon Blowing Rock was immeasurable, through her service in the faith and medical community, as well as from her contributions to education, the arts and local history.

In the 1960s and ’70s, Betty served as chairwoman of the Blowing Rock March of Dimes. In 1973, she helped organize the Blowing Rock Rescue Squad, after a close friend required emergency services with no ambulance available or nearby to transport him to the hospital.

“My husband, Hayden and Carl Underwood borrowed money to buy our first ambulance,” she said; the loan was eventually paid off by the community club, of which she was president.

Betty and Hayden were trained to handle emergencies and received the calls at their home; she dispatched other volunteers to the scene, while Hayden responded with the ambulance. For 20 years, after the “rescue squad” was organized, she also served as squad chaplain.

“I was so pleased to be able to pray, and maybe offer a little comfort to the families, when we went to pick up someone in the home,” she said.

Betty also served the hospital as auxiliary president, as a member of the board of trustees and helped established the hospital chapel. She also helped start The Budget Box, a thrift store that raised money to help fund special needs within the hospital; she was a faithful volunteer at the shop every Wednesday.

In addition to her title as “first lady,” Betty was also Blowing Rock’s Citizen of the Year and Woman of the Year. She was also recognized as Mother of the Year at Western Carolina Center in Morganton, where her son Michael resided for several years. During that same time, she also served as president of the Hilltoppers Association, and again, helped establish a facility chapel.

For many years, she chaired the “care committee” that provided meals for the community’s sick and shut-ins. For more than two decades, she was also part of the Pitts Family Singers that visited and sang to residents of the hospital’s extended care wing.

In 1995, she began writing the “Quiet Corner” column which appeared weekly, until last week, in the Blowing Rocket .

Betty was also a long-time active member of First Baptist Church, Blowing Rock, where she sang in the choir and held many teaching and leadership posts. She was a member of Middle Fork Baptist Church at the time of her death.

Betty was a hospice volunteer, member of the advisory boards for Blue Ridge Electric Advisory Board and also that of RHA a group home that served her son, Michael.

Most recently, in February 2018, Betty received the Jerry Burns Ambassadorial Award, about which she said. “I have been blessed to be presented many awards and recognitions in my life, but never one that meant more to me (than that one.)”

She shared that her children took her by wheelchair to the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce Annual Awards Luncheon for the presentation.

“I was humbled by the many nice things that were said about me,” she shared. “Jerry Burns (longtime editor of the Blowing Rocket) loved this town, as I and many others do. But, to be given this recognition at this time in my life was so special. I do hope others that complain about and do not support the efforts of our town will take a second look at what we are blessed with. Things change but love, kindness and respect should always prevail. Thank you again for all those that brought this acknowledgment about.”    

From humble beginnings

In reflecting upon her life and why she did the things she did, Betty liked to talk about simpler times.

She laughingly recalled being delivered September 11, 1929 by “Granny Yarber,” who was paid two chickens for her delivery, she said. “My brother was more expensive — he cost my parents (Toy and Gypsy Mary Jane Townsend Ruppert) a pig,”

Betty was 13 when she gave her heart to the Lord and dreamed of becoming a missionary.

She was almost 16 when she married Hayden Pitts, who was 21 at the time, and entered what she referred to as “the Pitts University of Life.”

The couple had seven children of their own, but were known as parents to many others, who were always taken into their home for love and security they might not have known otherwise.

As owner and operator of a gas station in the heart of Blowing Rock, Hayden, too. was known for his kindness to others. Betty said he often brought people home for supper. “Sometimes, they stayed long after the meal and often for days at a time.”

Hayden was mayor of Blowing Rock for 14 years and served on the town council for seven. Betty said she was always happy to be at his side.

To the end

Regardless of her busy schedule, Betty’s commitment to family was of upmost importance, having commented many times about their mutual love and admiration for each other.

In one of her earlier columns this year, she thanked her children, “who have not left me be alone for one minute since my diagnosis,” and said they were “so attentive” and saw to her every need. “Then, there are my precious grandchildren that have learned by example of their parents by taking care of me.“

She also mentioned other family members, her medical team, friends and neighbors, thanking each one for their contribution to her last days.

“You all have truly been Christ’s hands and feet to minister to me and my family. I especially thank Jeff Eason, Tom Sherrill, and Tom Mayer from the Blowing Rocket who have allowed me to continue to share this column with you for so many years. A large part of my heart belongs to you.” (A side note, she and Jeff Eason, editor of the Blowing Rocket, passed away within hours of each other, his death from complications related to leukemia.)

“ I don’t know why God has allowed me to walk this path,” Betty wrote. “I am thankful for each mile because for one moment of illness there have been multitudes of blessings. I was told that I was good to others when I was able, so now people are paying it forward. I have said so many times, ‘The benefits of serving the Lord are out of this world!’ I wait patiently to reap those promised benefits! Won’t you? Think about it!”

Funeral services for Betty Pitts will be conducted Wednesday afternoon, June 6, at 2 p.m. at Rumple Memorial Presbyterian Church in Blowing Rock, officiated by Dr. Marshall Edwards, Mel Graham, Rev. Shelby Stephens, Tucker Yates and Rev. Katheryn Beach. Graveside services will follow at Woodlawn Cemetery. The family will receive friends Tuesday evening from 6 until 8 p.m. at the Rumple Memorial Presbyterian Church.

The family suggests memorials to Middle Fork Baptist Church, 268 Bishop Ridge, Blowing Rock, to Rumple Memorial Presbyterian Church, PO Box 393, Blowing Rock, to The Foley Center, PO Box 8, Blowing Rock, or to Caldwell Hospice & Palliative Care, 902 Kirkwood St., NW, Lenoir, NC 28645.

For more information or to share online condolences, visit www.austinandbarnesfuneralhome.com.

Austin & Barnes Funeral Home and Crematory is serving the Pitts family.