Bettye Carol Simmons Jolly was at home, with her heartbroken family, as she quietly slipped from life into death. She left with neither regrets nor disappointments about the life she had been given; instead, she gave great thanks. She had calmly and without complaint accepted death as the inevitable consequence of life. She loved the joy of life but did not fear the finality of death. At the end, death came as a friend, and she left this life as she had lived it - with inward strength, determined independence, and unblemished integrity of self.
Bettye was born in Jackson, Mississippi on September 6, 1943. She graduated from Forrest County Agricultural High School in Brooklyn, Mississippi and from Ole Miss in 1965, with a degree in journalism, a career she pursued through her early years.
While serving as ""Bureau Chief"" (she was the only one in the office, however) of the Northwest Bureau of the Memphis Commercial Appeal, among her reporting assignments was covering the activities of the Klu Klux Klan, which often required her riding the country roads of north Mississippi at night. Her father bought her a pistol for her protection, which was never fired and lingers around the Jolly household somewhere. She also covered the activities of Ole Miss, including the Law School, where young law professors were busy challenging the status quo. But, more serendipitously, she covered the trials of the federal court, where she first met her husband, a federal prosecutor.
On January 22, 1966, approximately one month after their first date (Ole Miss at the Liberty Bowl), she married E. Grady Jolly, then of Oxford. They were married and in love for more than 48 years. They recently celebrated their 48th anniversary at home, where her close and attentive friends toasted the occasion.
When they married, Bettye moved to Oxford where she became managing editor of the Oxford Eagle. She had the usual tasks of that accompanied a weekly newspaper covering a small town and county. She fondly remembered editing the community correspondence columns, reporting such community news as ""Mrs. Elsie Thrailkill, mashed a blackhead on her nose and now it is all swollen up.""
In 1967, they moved to Washington where she was first, assistant press secretary to U.S. Senator John C. Stennis, and later, press secretary to U.S. Congressman Sonny Montgomery.
In 1969, they moved to Jackson where her career as a paid journalist closed. She continued, however, to provide those services as a volunteer, to many organizations and to close friends. She wrote the first press release for the congressional campaign of Thad Cochran in 1972 and continued to volunteer her services for him in his first campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1978, working closely with Rose, his wife and her dear friend. She also volunteered her services for her friend Edward Ellington's campaigns, first for the state senate and then for Congress. In politics, as well as in other similar matters, she distanced herself from dogma and ideology.
Bettye was active in many civic organizations and civic causes. For several years, she worked as a volunteer with Operation Shoestring. She served as president of the Hinds County Library System, president of The Gallery Guild, president of the Jackson Symphony League, and president of the Jackson Opera Guild. She was a passionate devotee of all classical opera. She was active in the Mississippi Museum of Art, in the state Arts Commission and chair of the Arts Festival. She was selected as member of the Jackson Leadership Council and was honored as a City of Jackson volunteer of the year. She was the first (and maybe the last) restaurant critic The Clarion Ledger under the pseudonym of Epicurious. She was an avid reader of American literature, particularly of the South. She favored southern female novelists; special among them, Eudora Welty and Flannery O'Connor. She took courses at Millsaps and treasured her monthly conversations and studies with her small group of like-minded readers, led by her friend, Professor Suzanne Marrs, biographer of Eudora Welty. For many years, she was pleased to serve as a docent at the Eudora Welty House. One of the joys of her life was working with flowers, including the fun of arranging, decorating, and growing them. Flower decoration for events and places was the principal activity of her ""business partners"" - Pat, Susan, and Janie, and sometimes Cleta, who were also her regular chums.
One of her most fun pleasures was the trips she took with her business partners to the market in Atlanta. Bettye was a proud member of the Belhaven Garden Club and served as its ""Queen"".
She was enthusiastic about croquet, the only sport she ever played, and was secretary/treasurer of Pocahontas Mallet Club from its beginning. The club centered on her longtime cherished friend, Laurie, and the private courts on Laurie's farm, overlooking lakes and pastures.
She was an avid tennis fan and adored Pete Sampras and Roger Federer. She followed Ole Miss Football and among her happy memories were the fall weekends in Oxford with the dearest of friends, Will and Patty. She surely carried with her to the end and beyond, the soothing and sparkling memories of blue skies and cool summer months in Maine on the Penobscot Bay with her devoted friend, Sandra, and her godson, Andrew.
She loved her Cavalier King Charles Spaniels in the tenderest place of her heart, especially Pete (named after Pete Sampras) who sadly preceded her in death by only a few weeks. Her garden was divided into ""rooms"", which included rooms designated by bronze plaques, ""Annabelle's Garden"" and ""Pete's Court"".
Bettye was truly modest and self-contained. It is unlikely that anyone ever heard her extol herself or her achievements. Undoubtedly she would recoil from some of the things said here. There was never the slightest touch of self-righteousness or envy in her character. Responsibility was a salient trait throughout her life. In both her personal relations and civic obligations, she did what she said she would do and when she said she was going to do it. To speak truthfully, she could be a bit annoying to us procrastinators. She lacked vanity, although her beauty was evident to everyone. Strangers thought she must be her husband's second wife, given her youthful looks. Certainly compared to his.
Unassuming as she was, she genuinely was astonished by the love, the generosity, the attention, and the affectionate letters she received from scores of friends and acquaintances during her final illness. Typical of the comments in the letters were: ""I have not known anyone in my lifetime who exemplifies the meaning of ""Lady"" more than you"", ""You are one of the most authentic persons I know"", ""You are the picture of bravery and strength"", ""You have always been true to yourself"", ""Your courage has been an inspiration to us all"", ""You used your many superb talents in a dazzling way"", ""I admire you for your grace, your wit, your formidable intelligence"", ""I have grown in admiration for your depth of literary insight and breadth of talent in so many other areas"", ""Your quiet independent ways ... have often set you apart"", ""Your fierce determination to make things better"", "" You have shown me how life can be lived with grace and deliberation and self-awareness and joy"", ""Your admirers are many and your beauty and skills envied"", ""Poised and confident"", ""So many people have benefitted from your good and worthwhile efforts"", and many other similar comments.
So many friends remembered her with food, flowers, and visits. She was emotionally moved by every expression of their caring. In the last days of her illness, Bettye could not have asked for more attentive care than was given to her by her friend of many, many years, Nancy.
Bettye and Grady had no children of their own but their immediate family is the children of Grady's deceased sister, whom they have loved for their lifetime. Among these and whom they consider their own are Jacksonians Anna Jolly Burnett and her husband, Phil, and children, Phillip, John Grady, Ben Jolly, and Kathleen. Anna's sister, brothers, and their families are lifetime residents of Texas.
Bettye's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Simmons, preceded her in death as did her close aunt, Mitzie. She leaves two brothers, Larry and Glenn, their wives, Jeannie and Tricia, her beloved nieces, Tracy (Jack), Lisa (Steve), Laurie, and her nephew, Lane. She also leaves her great-niece and nephew, Stephanie and Keith. She is also sad to leave her trusted and loyal housekeeper, Alice, whom she has appreciated, confided in, and loved these many years and she certainly is leaving much of her love with Mitzi, her loyal and faithful Cavalier, who was found ever at her side and on her bed in the last few weeks of her illness.
She leaves her husband, and the immediate family referred to above, including nephews Dewitt and Crawford, nieces Kathleen and Anna, and their spouses, Suzanne, Carol, Bill and Phillip, and their children, Abbey, Tommy, Hannah, Grady, Josh, Jennifer, William, Mary Anna, Caroline, Phillip, John Grady, Ben Jolly, and Kathleen. She was deeply saddened that she had to leave them so soon.
Bettye has given her body to medical science in the care of the University of Mississippi Medical School and her admired longtime friend, its Dean and Vice Chancellor, Dr. Jimmy Keeton.
At her request, there will be no funeral or burial service. Her family, however, extends a cordial invitation to all friends and acquaintances to a reception to venerate, celebrate, and give thanks for her life. The reception will be given at the Fairview Inn, 734 Fairview Street, Jackson, Mississippi, on Saturday, February 22, 2014 at the hours of 3:30 - 5:30 p.m.
More than 200 years ago, William Wordsworth expressed the loss felt by those who are closest to her:
What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now forever taken from our sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;
In the primal sympathy
Which having been must ever be;
In the soothing thoughts that spring
Out of human suffering;
In the faith that looks through death,
In the years that bring the philosophic mind.
Published in Clarion Ledger from Feb. 20 to Feb. 22, 2014