Betty Miller Morris 1939-2010

Betty’s newspaper obituary:

MORRIS, Betty Miller, passed away Saturday, May 8, 2010 with her family nearby. Born in 1939, she was a native of Chesapeake and a daughter of the late Dwight and Virginia Miller. Survivors include her beloved husband of nearly 50 years, R. Dennis Morris; two children, Robyn Virginia Morris and her family, Becca and Alexandria St. Clair; and Dwight Morris and his wife, Kathy, and their daughters, Sarah and Heather Morris. She is also survived by an older sister, Jeanne Gammon and her children, Allison Weaver, Stephen Gammon, Virginia Gammon and Lee Gammon. Other survivors include Betty’s sister-in-law’s family who include Katherine Morris Andes and Robert Andes and their children, Susan Lutzic, Jeffrey and Katie Andes; and by a special friend, Judith Turner. Betty graduated from Great Bridge High School in 1957. She went on to school at the University of Richmond, Westhampton College as a psychology major. After graduating, she taught school. In 1958, she was diagnosed with Hodgkins Disease which she fought to remission. Throughout her life, she had two more episodes with Hodgkins and she won both of those battles. She also fought and conquered thyroid cancer in the early 1970s. Betty was a very selfless, giving and thoughtful individual. In the 1960s, she spent a great deal of her time at the Baptist Goodwill Inner City Mission in Richmond, Va., teaching young women life skills such as sewing and meal preparation. She was always active in her church, wherever she was. She was the choir director at Monument Heights Baptist Church in Richmond, Va. In the 1970s, she directed the children’s choir with a passion at Huguenot Road Baptist Church in Richmond. Betty worked for the American Cancer Society while living in the Annapolis, Md. area. She also actively led a Bible Study for her neighbors. She moved back to the Chesapeake area upon her husband’s retirement and took care of her aging mother for 10 years until her mother’s passing in 2002. For several years, she was involved in a Samaritan program sending boxes of essentials to the children of war-torn Afghanistan. She was a giant Gaither Gospel music fan and went to concerts throughout the United States. Through this involvement, a group of friend/fans formed and they called themselves The Magnolias. Betty was a special fan of Russ Taff. One of her last life adventures was taking a Gaither Alaskan Cruise with her oldest granddaughter. Dr. H.T. Dixon Jr. will conduct a Celebration of Life Service at the Mount Pleasant Mennonite Church, 2041 Mount Pleasant Road, Chesapeake, Va. At the request of her children, friends and family are invited to share a special memory or story about Betty during the service. A gathering of family and friends will follow immediately after the service in the church social hall where the “Mennonite Ladies” will serve light refreshments. In lieu of flowers, donations to the American Cancer Society or Cradock Baptist Church are requested. Condolences may be offered to the family at

This is what I wrote to be read at Betty’s Celebration of Life Service today:

First of all I want to tell you how incredibly sorry Russ and I are that we cannot be there in person to honor Betty with you. I will never understand why all of these circumstances made it completely impossible for us to come today. We have no choice but to accept the reality of the situation, and I do know that Betty, ever the practical one, would fuss at me for letting something I have no control over bother me so much—but it does. So I decided the only way I’m going to be able to not feel like I’m letting her down is that I am just going to pretend she took one look at me down here in Tennessee, flat on my back in bed and pitiful, and said, “Tori, what are you thinking, I FORBID you to travel!” That makes it easier for me to handle. I’m used to her bossing me around!

Well, for someone who never has any trouble expressing herself, this has been the hardest thing I’ve ever written. Not because it’s hard for me to talk about Betty, or to tell you all the things I loved about her, but because for the first time in my life, words feel inadequate. Betty, for all of her humility, was quite simply larger than life.

To tell you the truth, I can’t quite remember the first time we ever “met” each other. I do know that it was either by email or through the Gaithernet message boards; we didn’t actually see each other face to face for quite a long time. Knowing Betty, she probably contacted me on behalf of someone else, like maybe to see if I could arrange for Russ to meet Momma Lloyd at a concert, or to offer to do something for us, like work Russ’ product table—which by the way, NOBODY ever did better!

I liked Betty immediately. I come from a long line of strong, opinionated women so we ‘got’ each other right off the bat. Her sly sense of humor delighted me, her fierce intelligence and uncompromising sense of justice impressed me. She was so openhearted and generous, and so loyal and committed to the people she loved that my heart knew instinctively that it would always be safe with Betty. And it always was. Betty was never afraid to offer advice or tell me the truth as she saw it, but she was also the least judgmental person I knew. UNLESS someone happened to cross one of her friends, or do something to hurt the innocent—then TRUST ME, she had no problem passing judgment, and holding that person accountable! But if that person was genuinely sorry and tried to make amends? Then she offered forgiveness, with no strings attached. That was justice, Betty-style—always served up with plenty of mercy. (But if they knew what was good for them, they better not ever do it again!)

I loved that Betty’s passionate political views were always getting her into trouble. This sounds terrible, but honestly, no one got a bigger kick out of Betty getting kicked off of Gaithernet than me! I teased her about it all the time and she was so completely unrepentant about the circumstances—hey, she didn’t think she was being political, she was just being an American! In typical Betty fashion, she just calmly figured out a way to get around it and kept visiting the message boards whenever she felt like it… often signed in as Momma Lloyd or Linda B! It is a huge testament to her character that she was able to be friends with so many people who did not share her exact political or religious views or opinions—like me, for instance! I know she probably shook her head many times at my liberal leanings, but she liked me too much to let our differences get in the way– although I’m sure she never gave up hope that I would “see the light” some day! Betty didn’t ever feel the need to surround herself only with people who agreed with everything she said—“Where’s the fun in that?” she’d say.

If the fiercest part of Betty was reserved for the underdogs of the world, the sweetest, gentlest part of Betty belonged to her beloved family and friends. She cherished all of you so much. I’m incredibly sorry that I am not able to be there with you right this minute and finally match up faces and voices to the names and pictures and stories she has shared with me over the years. I do feel as if I know you, because I know what you’ve meant to her.

Dennis, I’d like to speak a personal word to you, if it doesn’t embarrass you too much to be singled out (and of course, it will!): Betty just adored you. Not in a girlish, hearts-and-flowers kind of way—it was the kind of deep abiding love that only comes through the test of time. Her love for you had its eyes wide open. It was a love that had learned how to forgive and accept, that knew how to give and take, that had found a place of comfort and companionship in spite of the seemingly eternal irreconcilable differences between an Introvert and an Extrovert.  Betty taught me how to understand that kind of love because she recognized it when she saw it in my marriage to Russ. And in some of my darkest hours, Betty loaned me some of her hard-earned wisdom and experience and convinced me that love is always worth fighting for. Russ and I are grateful that Betty loved you so much and so well, Dennis. Our marriage is the better for it.

I honestly don’t know how to say goodbye to Betty. I think part of me hasn’t completely accepted the fact that she’s really gone. I mean, when you consider all of the things she’s beaten in her life, it just doesn’t seem possible that she didn’t somehow beat all the odds and astound all of the doctors one more time. I fully expected that this would be another triumphant chapter in her amazing life story, the story of Betty The Ultimate Survivor. But of course I have been miles and miles away from the daily reality of how very, very sick she’s been and much she has suffered. Those of you here with her on the front lines of her fight haven’t had the luxury of the kind of denial I’ve been able to maintain. You know better than anyone what a warrior she has been—and how very much she has earned the rest that she has now entered into. And no matter how much I will miss her, I could never wish her anything better than what she is experiencing right now in the company of the angels, in the arms of the Savior she served so well, and knowing Betty, on the front row of every gospel concert heaven has to offer! With a big ol’ laminated backstage pass, too, I bet!

So themema, my beloved friend, I WILL say goodbye. Thank you for loving Russ so much—he absolutely loved you back. Thank you for delighting in my children—Madi Rose and Charlotte thought you were so cool! Thank you for bringing Momma Lloyd and Linda into my life—I’ll try to love them half as well as you did. I won’t forget the things you taught me, or the stories you told me, or the sacred trust you placed in me. I’ll smile every time I think of you, which will be often, and I know I’ll see you again.

We’ll have SO much catching up to do, Betty– save me a seat!

10 Responses

  1. LindaB

    Oh Tori, that was WONDERFUL! Trying to capture the essense of Betty Morris in a page or two is nearly impossible, but you’ve done very well!

    I’ve thought of so many stories about something Betty has said or done in the last week that I thought I’d said it all, but I thought of yet one more thing about our friend—–she didn’t accept the phrase, “That’s impossible, Betty”! Or “You just can’t do that”!! If you said that to Betty, it was like a dose of vitamins for her! I remember when she decided she was going to book a bunch of concert dates with Russ Taff one summer. I thought to myself, “Holy cow! She’s gone right over the edge! It’s straight-jacket time with men in white coats and pretty pink pills!” I tried to talk her out of it. I tried to reason with her, “Betty, you’ve never booked concerts or promoted concerts ever in your whole life, have you? It’s harder than you think! You just can’t do that!” She shrugged me off and said, “Well, I don’t think there’s anything to it.” And she went ahead and did it! She booked one whole weekend around the Richmond area for Russ to sing in various churches. And I mean one right after another! And she asked me to go with her to help her. (LOL! Like she needed anyone to “help” her! I think she just wanted to show me it could be done!) And I went. (Hey, a whole weekend of hearing Russ Taff sing can’t be bad, right?) Well, Russ sang his socks off, the churches were thrilled—-especially the smaller churches that never thought they’d be able to have a Grammy-winning performer of Russ Taff’s caliper at their little church! One little such church had a gathering of young people standing outside waiting for him and had “marked” a spot on the gravel parking lot with a homemade sign that said, “Reserved for Russ Taff”! He sang for over two solid hours at EVERY stop! And then she had booked a concert at one of those mega-churches with the huge choir and orchestra on Sunday morning, and Russ did a fantastic job—-everyone there was thoroughly impressed with him! And all the while we are running from church to church and city to city, Betty was absolutely beaming! I’ve never seen her so happy! She was in her element! On our way back to the hotel Saturday night we passed a billboard sign advertising a food bank for the homeless. I, being the whimp that I am, was exhausted and hungry! We had not eaten since breakfast and it was 11 at night! I asked her if we could please stop at the foodbank and make a withdrawal! She laughed and said, “Oh! I guess we didn’t eat yet, did we?” She was not hungry because that was her sustenance——taking the blessing of hearing Russ sing to so many churches in one weekend that never dreamed they could have him, and seeing them enjoy it so much! I would be whining that I was tired and hungry, but she would just grin and talk about how she wished the weekend would never end! I didn’t think she could do it, but she did! And with flair! I treasure that weekend with our Betty! She showed me how it was done, she taught me to NEVER think Betty Morris can’t do something—-and for goodness sakes, don’t tell her that!……. and if you REALLY REALLY love what you’re doing, you don’t need to eat.

  2. ChristinaCD


    I have never had the opportunity to talk to or meet Betty. You have done a WONDERFUL job at describing her. My prayers are with you, Russ and Betty’s family during this time

  3. MostlySunny

    Well, I’m a mess after reading all of this. LindaB – your stories of Betty made me laugh.

    Tori – Thank you for sharing her life with us. So much I didn’t know; what a fun lady! She will be missed.

    We’ve had so much death and grief in our church lately – 4 funerals this coming week! And 2 in the last month. God promised us today, and that He would be faithful. I’m counting on it (and Him).

  4. auburn60

    Good job, Tori! Especially considering you are under the influence of heavy-duty pharmaceuticals.

    I’ve wanted to say something about Betty, but wanted to wait until I had time to sit down and really think it through.

    I was also one of the many who thought Betty would pull through this. I was shocked when I got Momma Lloyd’s e-mail last week saying that she had gone home. I was getting on a plane in Boston and had not kept up with my mail or Betty’s care page so did not know how weak she had gotten.

    I never met Betty face-to-face. I saw her at Gaither functions but we had never been formally introduced. Didn’t matter. Betty was part of a group of women (Momma Lloyd, LindaB, and Tori being the others) who could storm Heaven in prayer. Together we have prayed babies through surgeries, families through crises and each other through-well-life. I never hesitated to ask Betty to pray. I knew her direct line to God was one of the strongest options I had.

    Once I sent Betty a link to my newly formed blog. She sent me back positive comments and some encouragement. I replied that I knew I was ‘no Tori Taff’ but liked writing about what I know. She shot back immediately with this gem: ‘God doesn’t ask you to be a TT, we already have one of those. He just wants you to be the best Alyson you can. ‘

    Betty forgave me my earlier taste in music, which leaned toward heavy metal when I was young, because she figured if I had discovered Russ Taff I had surely ‘seen the light’. And that was the end of any discussion of that matter.

    She and I spent one ENTIRE day looking on-line for a platter that had gotten broken at Thanksgiving and she wanted to replace it. I became obsessed with finding this platter based on her description and picture. We exchanged e-mails ALL DAY with pictures and companies to look at for this very detailed platter. I’m happy to report that we found the manufacturer but I never knew if she bought one to replace it. I guess I’ll never know.

    If I remember correctly, Betty said at one time that she loved the color green and magnolia flowers. I hope she has a mansion filled with both. I hope in the Heavenly concerts she now gets to hear in person that George, Vestal, Anthony and all the rest don’t get tired of hearing about Russ. : ) I hope she has the whole place organized by the time the rest of us get there.

    Godspeed, my friend.

  5. tori

    LindaB: THANK YOU for writing that– it is one of my favorite Betty stories and I had forgotten all about it these last few days! You made me laugh so hard… And of course the secret part of the story, and one that Russ and I did not find out about until after the fact, is that Betty HERSELF fronted the money for the concerts at those small churches. She knew we would never agree to that, but when we did find out she said that this was tithe money that she had set aside and this was what God told her to do with it and if we had a problem with it we had better take it up with HIM– case closed! God bless her huge, generous heart.

    ChristinaCD: Thank you, I appreciate that so much.

    MostlySunny: I am so sorry you have had so many losses in your world lately.

    auburn60: I had no idea you had never actually met Betty! She talked about you like you had known each other for a while– of course, I felt that way about her before we ever actually met face to face, too! You’re right, she was the one to call when prayer was needed. Thank you for writing so beautifully about her.

  6. Gramma Jac

    I’ve been “lurking” awhile and just “signed on”. I wanted to send my sympathy to all of you and say I wish I’d known this incredible lady!! If we get a to-do list (I’m FAMOUS for to-do lists!) in heaven, I’m putting her name on it so I look her up!!!

  7. bettyrwoodward

    Thanks Tori and the rest of you for writing about Betty. I never met her but felt I knew her as a friend through the various internet sites. As a name sake I shall miss her.

  8. LindaB

    Tori, how is your back? Still in bed with it? Want me to come cook for you?

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