The story of Betty Jane Harvey Reed is a story of a survivor, and one that can only be told in America. There are many words to describe Betty Reed—loving, feisty, sweet, stubborn, tenacious—but all who knew her could be certain of one thing: she never did anything halfway. She was never stubborn halfway, but she never loved you halfway either.
Betty was born at 12 noon on March 13, 1935, in Rockwood, Tennessee in central Appalachia. Betty was the youngest of five children to Andrew Jackson Harvey, Jr. and Florence Eunice Morris. She nearly left this world as soon as she came into it, when she and her brother A.J. came down with double-pneumonia in 1936. But Betty’s grandmother, “Mammy,” wrapped them both in mustard plaster and tended to them night and day. While A.J. passed at the tender age of 3, Betty survived.
She spent her childhood exploring the hills of Roane County, searching for Cherokee beads, cracking hickory nuts, sewing doll clothes out of feed sacks, and butchering the occasional chicken for her mother.
During WWII, Betty’s mother answered the call to be a “Rosie the Riveter” in the converted aircraft factories in Detroit, taking Betty and her siblings with her. Betty hated Detroit “with all the snow and the darn goats milk they made you drink at school,” and was quickly sent back to Rockwood to live with her beloved Mammy.
Betty grew into an intelligent and beautiful young woman, winning the title of “Miss TVA” in her teens. She later married Carl Shipley Burris, against the wishes of her parents. In Betty’s words, she was then blessed with “three beautiful children” and later, five grandchildren.
Her grandchildren in particular remember the perseverance of their grandmother, who they watched carry a litter of wolf puppies that had been caught in a flood up to the front porch and immediately start giving them mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. She saved all but one.
Later in life Betty became an expert in genealogy and was an early adopter of using the computer to digitize the genealogical work of her sister, Mable Harvey Thornton. Betty eventually compiled a 44,400 person family tree which provides a rich history of Appalachia, and generously shared her data with other enthusiasts.
However, the sudden loss of her eldest daughter in 2006 devastated Betty so much so that she gave up her genealogical work entirely—stating she could not bear to type in her daughter’s death date.
Betty still persevered. She had less than five grey hairs on her head, loved Roane County tomatoes, and could not be kept away from her garden despite multiple pleas from her family to maybe leave the yardwork to someone who was not an octogenarian.
Her son has received countless calls from concerned doctors that she was near the end, none of which Betty complied with. Indeed, we all remember the “Great Recipe Stealing Incident of 2017” where Betty’s grandchildren—fearing the worst—took home a box of her recipes only to be roundly scolded several months later when she was in the kitchen attempting to make mile-high biscuits.
We lost Betty on Thursday, February 10, 2022. Ironically, it was to the same affliction that nearly took her out of this world as a toddler—pneumonia—this time brought on by Covid. We wished we had some mustard plaster.
But, we want you to know that Betty’s death was preceded by a thousand “I love yous.” After her passing we learned she did indeed sign on once more to her genealogy web page and left a little note, which we repeat for you here in full:
This is the year of 2020. I have lived to be 85 years old. Only one of my relatives or ancestors has lived this long. My Aunt Helen Morris Smith has lived longer to almost 100 years old. I will never make that. Betty
Betty Jane Harvey was preceded in death by her father and mother, Andrew Jackson Harvey, Jr. and Florence Eunice Morris; her siblings Andrew Jackson “A.J.” Harvey III, Mable Harvey Thornton, Marion Elizabeth Harvey, and Fred Eston Harvey; her first husband, Carl Shipley Burris; her second husband Dr. Howard Ernest Reed; her daughter-in-law, Melanie Earlene Anderson; and her daughter, Teresa Ann Smith.
She leaves to treasure her memory her son, Carson Ival Burris; her daughter, Dorinda Sue Burris; her grandchildren (who have, by now we hope, reached an amicable agreement on how to equitably distribute the recipes): Meghan Claire Hammond, Robert Lee “Trey” Hammond III, Katelynn Meredith Smith Stilling, Christopher Bentley Smith II, and Kelli Bird Farris; and her great-granddaughter, Molli Kate Farris.
The funeral service for Betty Reed will be held at 11:00 a.m. on Monday, February 14, 2022, at Evans Mortuary in Rockwood, Tennessee, with graveside and internment to follow in the Oak Grove Cemetery. Betty loved hydrangeas, and we wouldn’t mind if she received lots.