2007-08-30 / Opinions

Dear Hearts and Gentle People

My column this week is a sad post-script to the sudden passing of the greatest music teacher to ever walk the halls of Lincoln County Elementary School. Beloved of students and staff alike, Betty Campbell died Sunday morning of injuries sustained in an accident last Thursday on Highway 43 in McDuffie County.

On route to work at M.E. Freeman Elementary School in Warren County, a job she began this school year, Betty had already won over the hearts of all who worked and studied there. As evidenced by the hoard of family, friends, and co-workers who gathered the last three days in and around the trauma unit of the Medical College of Georgia Hospital, Betty Campbell was a very special lady.

Born December 11, 1954 to Emory and Marilyn Flint, Betty came into the world with a song in her heart and on her lips and has been singing ever since. Her love of music was as inborn as her DNA and it influenced every minute of her life for 52 years. Betty began serenading family members as a toddler and I can recall her "directing" choirs with the majorette's baton she received as a gift from Santa Claus one year.

Betty was, as I always told her, the backwoods-southern-girl version of Sandi Patty. Her vocal range was amazing; the sounds her voice created were rich and soothing and she put her heart and soul into every song she sang. I often commented to her that if she'd only hired the right public relations person she would have been singing all over the world and making millions of dollars like Ms. Patty. She'd always shrug her shoulders and say, "Why would I want to do that?"

Funny thing was, Betty had no desire to become famous, to make gold records, or to have her name plastered on marquees from sea to shining sea. Her goals were simple and dictated by her love and compassion for children and a single-minded commitment to her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Her heart's desire was to see others come to know the saving grace of a loving God and she used her music to spread that message.

Growing up in the Lovelace community of Lincolnton, Betty was always quick to say that it was her grandmother Minnie Flint (by the way, we share the same grandma) who led her to a saving knowledge of Jesus and it was "Mama Flint" who made sure she stayed "on the straight and narrow" all through her childhood.

"Miss Minnie," Betty once chuckled, "didn't only make sure I got to church, she took me herself!"

An only child, Betty lived with her parents and Mama Flint, and was doted on by all of them from the day she was born. Betty was a dreamer, a planner, and knew early on what she was destined to be.....a lover of, and teacher of, music. Gospel music, in particular.

Family get-togethers on the Flint side of the family tree often found Betty, my sister, and me as an impromptu trio, up-front-and-center singing harmony to hymns we had memorized from a lifetime of churchgoing. My sister and I were shy (believe it, beloved) but Betty always stood tall, her neck straight and her head held high, and belted out the song as if she were singing at the Metropolitan Opera House.

Music was her major at Valdosta State and it wasn't long until church scouts began their pursuit of the girl with the "glorious big voice." Betty's repetoire grew to include classical, jazz, hip-hop, and even the blues, but gospel music in all genres remained her love and passion.

I say passion because Betty was more passionate about her faith than anybody I've ever met. And many times, it cost her. Political correctness meant little to Betty when it came to sharing the love of Jesus with her students. While most public schools forbid public religious displays or references, Betty never once failed to include Christmas carols in her curriculum and at Easter time I can guarantee you she made sure her kids sang about more than Easter bunnies and colored eggs.

She wasn't trying to buck the system, she just knew what she was doing was right. She would tell you in a skinny minute that she wasn't afraid of losing her job. She trusted God explicitly and knew if that ever were to happen He was more than capable of finding her another one. She lived her faith without compromise, without fear, and in a way that would have made Mama Flint very, very proud.

Every Halloween on Kelly Street, when kids by the hundreds went door to door in search of goodies Betty, like other homeowners, met the Trick-or-Treaters with bags of yummy sugar-laden delectables and, as an added treat, pencils bearing scripture verses.

Betty loved people. Young, old, and in between. She especially loved the special students who took private piano or voice lessons from her. She was an encourager and never missed an opportunity to showcase her students' work and was proud as a mother hen over her musical brood.

Students, some grown and married, some who've gained national acclaim, and some who've chosen to use their talents in country churches, local musicals, and barbershop quartets, have been calling daily to say how much they loved their "first music teacher" and how heartbroken they are at her passing.

Betty dearly loved her family. She and her husband Phil would have celebrated their 28th wedding anniversary the day she died. Her two daughters Anna and Faith were the apples of her eye and brought her endless joy.

An outspoken woman with an ebullient personality, Betty was no stranger to heartache. She and Phil lost a son soon after his birth, experienced tragedy when two of her cousins were brutally murdered, lost her father to a hard-fought battle with lung cancer, and recently lost her mother to heart failure. Her mother's passing took a tremendous emotional toll on Betty and though she struggled for a while, her faith never wavered.

Betty was just beginning to live again when she was taken from us. Along with the new job, she and daughter Anna were excitedly planning Anna's upcoming marriage to fiance Al Dawkins scheduled for December 15. Faith was becoming a young woman and was just learning to drive. Betty was once again teaching music to children, her "calling."

I don't understand why tragedies like this happen. I don't understand the timing of it all. Just when it seemed life for her was on an uphill swing, she is gone. Then again, maybe we aren't supposed to understand.

Betty would have been the first to remind me that life isn't fair but God is still good and His timing perfect. She was like that.

She would have raised her eyebrows, looked at me and said, "Poop happens," and we would have shared a good laugh.

One thing I know for sure is that Betty is now among those she has loved and longed so to see again. She is with her heavenly Father and is most likely belting out songs with the angels and teaching them new ones on the side.

I never asked my cousin Betty what she would like as an epitaph but if I had to guess, I'd say she would have echoed the words of Ms. Patty when she was asked that same question:

"When all is said and done, I want someday to be remembered as a woman who loved the Lord, a woman who loved her family, and when she had the chance, she sang about it."

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