Betts, Audrey

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                                 BETTS REMEMBERED, SADLY MISSED

On Oct. 10, 1994 the Miramichi sustained the loss of one of its oldest and well-known residents, Audrey Ellen (Simpson) Betts. Born Dec. 14, 1901 in Neguac to William Simpson (fisherman) and Jane (McLean) Simpson, she was the youngest of five children: Ernest, Clyde, Arthur and Nina (Mrs. George Henderson). The Simpson family moved to Millerton, Northumberland County in 1905. William Simpson operated a tugboat named Laura owned by the Miller family. He became known as Captain Simpson. The Laura and a subsequent tugboat, the J.C. Miller, were used to tow barges and log booms on the Miramichi River.

On special holidays, like Dominion Day, the Laura would be trimmed with flags, and anyone in the community could board her and go on a trip to some spot along the river to play games and have a picnic. Mrs. Simpson ran a boarding house close to the Millerton train station. Many of her boarders worked in the nearby bark factory and rotary sawmills.

A frequent visitor to the house was an active young lad by the name of Ken (K.C.) Irving, who lived with his sister in Millerton for a short time and played with the Simpson boys. He would continue keep in touch through the years, and the chocolates he sent to Audrey every Christmas were a great source of pleasure to her.

Audrey Betts, in her life span of over 92 years, witnessed a great many changes in the world. She grew up at a time when the Millerton Bark Factory operated 24 hours a day in 12 hour shifts. It closed only for the Sabbath – Saturday night at midnight until Sunday night at midnight. In 1910, wages were $1.50 a day for a 10 hour day.

The local Doctor, Doctor W. A. Wilson travelled by horse, train, foot and bicycle until 1912, when he bought a Studebaker car. There was a community skating rink on the Miller wharf and one could toboggan on a nearby hill for 10 cents. Millerton, in those early days, had a barber shop, drug store, two small stores and an ice cream parlor. It was a thriving community with strong Christian roots, as evidenced by its many churches.

                                    Brothers go to War 

Audrey Betts remembered when the First World War broke out, and, one by one her brothers and other Miramichi boys went off to fight.

Her sister, Nina, left the Miramichi to train as a nurse at a hospital in Boston. Audrey decided to follow in her sisters’ footsteps despite the pleadings of her brother, Ernest. When he learned of her plans, he wrote to her from England to tell her she should attend the Halifax Ladies College and wait until he was back home before she took up nursing. Not heeding her brothers’ advice, she travelled by train to Cambridge Mass. in 1917 and subsequently graduated as a nurse from Cambridge Hospital.

She worked in Boston for a time as a private nurse, but when her father died, she returned to Millerton. She often spoke of that train trip. She was young and alone and frightened. She spent the entire trip dressed in her hat and coat and gloves, clutching her purse.

Audrey was a very pretty young lady with many suitors, but waited until she was 27 years old before she eloped with J. W. Leroi Betts, only son of Susan Emma (Flett) and John Betts, a prominent farmer and upstanding citizen of Millerton. They were married in the United Church Manse, Chatham, by Rev. George A. Christie on Sept. 4, 1929. They delayed their honeymoon until haying season was over, and set off for New York in early November.

Their trip was cut short by the death of John Betts Sr., and they returned to Millerton and eventually moved into the family homestead, at the corner of the Williamstown Road and King George Highway.

Life was not easy in those days of the Depression. Audrey and Leroi did their best to make ends meet, raise a family, and support their community and local politics. He eventually was the representative for the Progressive Conservative Party in Northumberland County and was highly regarded by all who knew him. He was a busy dairy farmer and, like his father before him, operated a salmon net.

He and his boys, John, David and Donald, made and packed many boxes of beautiful Miramichi salmon in ice and sent them off by train to the Fulton fish market in New York. Leroi died March 25, 1965 of lung cancer.

Audrey was always an active member of her church and served in various capacities within the Women’s Auxiliary (life time member) and Sunday school.

She was also very active in the Ladies Aid Society. She raised her three sons, helped with the farming and milking, and assisted her husband with his political duties.

Her faith in her church and her God was unshakable throughout her life. She maintained the Betts family homestead for many years after the loss of her husband. It remained a welcoming place for her sons and their families.

                                     Had to Move 

Eventually, age, circumstances and the concerns of her sons saw her move to the Flett apartments on King George Highway, Newcastle in 1982. She soon became a familiar sight on the streets and in the shops of Newcastle. She would daily venture forth to pick up something at Sobey’s or the bakery and invariably have a “bite to eat” somewhere. After a life time of her own good cooking, she delighted in eating out. Her favourite, especially during the last few years, was Zeller’s lunch counter. Here she could be seen every morning having coffee and pie. Her friends at Zeller’s honoured her with a birthday cake on more than one occasion.

She attended St. James and St. John United Church for 12 years, as faithfully as health would allow, and many caring people saw she got to church and home safely every Sunday.

Small in stature and growing ever smaller with age, she was still a person of strong will and mind. She had a sharp mind and had loved to play bridge. Doing crossword was a daily pastime for many years. She was well-known for her sense of humor as well as her outspokenness and strong opinions.

Unable to live alone the last five years, she was blessed with the help of a number of excellent caregiver/friends who made it possible for her to stay in her own apartment and continue to live a somewhat independent life for over 92 years. In the last few months prior to her death, her physical health deteriorated to the point where she could no longer be looked after at home and she subsequently was moved to reside in the Miramichi nursing home in Chatham.

Her health continued to deteriorate and on the Thanksgiving evening of Monday, Oct. 10, 1994, Audrey Ellen (Simpson) Betts passed on into the care and keeping of her God and Saviour.

The funeral took place on Thursday, Oct. 13, 1994 at 2 p.m. Friends and relatives gathered with Rev. Ronald Feltmate at Derby United Church, Millerton, where Audrey had worshipped for over 70 years.

The service was a fulfilment of her request. The church choir led in the singing of the hymns, The Lord’s My Shepherd and Faith of our Fathers. The scripture she chose was St. John 14. Her granddaughter, Laura Ellen, spoke of the person her grandmother was, remembering her with love and humor. Rev. Feltmate spoke of her as a woman of strength and honesty.

“...If Audrey had something to say, she said know where you stand with such a person...with Audrey there were only two opinions; the right one and other people’s.”

The walk to the grave side was led by six pallbearers: Ian Betts, Sheldon Betts, Andrew Simpson, James Cortes, Steven Curtis and Sterling Manderville. They were followed by 12 honorary pallbearers: James Henderson, Jack Blakeley, William Bryenton, William Campbell, Earl Carnahan, Murray Carter, Woodrow Cleveland, Miller Esson, Benett MacCullam, Robert McNeil, Edward Saunders and David Somers. The ladies of Derby United Church hosted a wonderful buffet meal for the family and friends in the church hall following the service.

Audrey would have been 93 years old on Dec. 14, 1994. She will be sadly missed by all her family; her three son and their wives and seven grandchildren, as well as two great-grandchildren.

Source: Miramichi Leader – February 28, 1995

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