The Pamlico Rose Institute
Growing Community by Preserving History
805-320-2967
820 Park Dr. Washington, NC, 27889
robert@pamlicoroseinstitute.org
805-320-2967 Robert@PamlicoRose.org

Betty Sands: The Spirit Behind Pamlico Rose Institute

16

APRIL, 2016

By Robert Greene Sands, Pamlico Rose Institute

The Pamlico Rose Institute

At age 85, Betty was contemplating her upcoming volunteer work for Hillary Clinton’s forgone run at President for a second time, when she entered the hospital with an infection. In living 85 years, Betty disregarded all kinds of boundaries, and even while they threatened to pigeon hole her, she sought to make the extraordinary associated with women of her age crossing boundaries, ordinary.

And that is how her children saw her, especially during her later years, not as a pioneer but as something more important, as their model for living a full, meaningful life. Betty slipped into a coma just a couple of days after being admitted, but as Betty lay with a machine pumping oxygen into her to keep her alive, she gave her children one more lesson in what it means to be human.

Betty was a seeker, even though at times, she had to push through obstacles of life and responsibility that littered her road to discovery. Just a couple of years after soloing, as close to 50 mother of six, Betty received her Masters of Art in mass communications. After raising a family, Betty rekindled her desire to learn and make a difference in the world, and in the process, once again showed her children that they can, as she could. Betty started a new 

For three days, as Betty lay still in a Des Moines hospital bed, her children, now past the age she was when she reached for the heavens and internally reached for a better and fulfilling life, relived her accomplishments and retraced once again her journey that motivated them to succeed. As it became clear Betty was not going to wake, she once again led by example, reaching out to them through her final wishes.

Daily the children continued the vigil around her bedside as nurses and doctors began to prepare them for the unavoidable of her not regaining consciousness. Singular or in pairs or more, they stroked her arms and face, kissed her cheeks and talked to her, when they weren’t talking to each other about memories or just the casual conversation of their own lives, of children, of nieces and nephews, and of work. They desperately wanted to believe on some level she knew they were there and could feel their presence and love. Betty wrote a living will and outlined to her heirs the steps she wanted them to consider if her life was to hang in the balance as her life did then. This was Betty’s last gift to them. In the finals days of her life, to think like her and consider her wishes and not let the bias or the selfishness of not wanting to let he go color the decisions they now had to make for her. The infection had turned cannibalistic and started affecting her organs. Even if she woke up, her body would be worse for the wear even more so then what had been because of her growing palsy, initial stages of dementia and the daily inflammation and chronic pain that limited her quality of life. In that living will, Betty asked her children to think like and for her as she lay in that bed not being able to think for herself.

The three days Betty was kept alive by the assistance of machines and medication, the children found themselves quietly engaged in fundamental issues of the meaning of life that so often take on the petty nuances of politics, faith and competing belief systems. There in that hospital room with Betty hooked up to feet of tubes and the quiet pinging of machines to monitor her precarious connection with the living, the children came face to face with the mortality of life, Betty’s and their own. The doctors would come in every morning and at change of shift to update the children. As Betty made no move to wake up and join her family, they would offer a different path of treatment. But those treatments did not come from an infinite pool of options. At each option, the children had to consider what it might mean for a possible recovery and what kind of life Betty would have if the treatment worked.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn 1974, 45-year old Betty cross- country soloed on her way to getting her private pilot license. Remember, no borders. Her six kids, grasped with varying levels of understanding, as did her husband, that she was not the most natural pilot in training and experienced doubt to her ability. On that flight, Betty got lost on her way from Springfield, Il to Olney, IL, two hours away. She ended up buzzing small town water towers to figure out where she was and finally, a passing airliner located her and put her in radio contact with Kansas City air traffic control who then directed her to Olney’s airport. Betty called Bob, her husband, when she landed and calmed his anxiety her tardy arrival.

After a few minutes of checking weather and her flight path back, Betty climbed back into the cockpit of the tiny Cessna 150, started the prop, taxied to the end of the small municipal runway and gunned the engine to take off and fly home. She fought her feelings of fear and uncertainty as the plane darted down the runway and lifted off. The last place she wanted to be was in that plane, behind the wheel and set to climb to 3000 feet. But the last thing Betty wanted to do was not finish her solo flight. There were other ways home, but Betty chose the one way back that forced her to confront her self-doubt, and yes, fear – she didn’t want to sell herself short. In the end, she did get her pilot license, logging almost double the hours needed. The Olney flight was an indication, as were her many hours of dual and solo flying before she graduated, that even though her wings were better tethered to the ground, she indeed could fly. Bob, and one of her daughters followed her and also got their pilot license, showcasing another facet of her life. Betty led by example and pushed the envelope so her children could soar through life without fear. 

Faith played a personal but important part in Betty’s life.

Betty facing another season as a Master GardnerBetty gardened as her parents gardened, the cycle of planting, harvesting and replanting invigorated her Midwestern sense of the natural order and the importance of sustaining the resources that gave us life. Her children followed her hoe and gardened knowing as she did, that things only grew when the soil was rich and fertile. Betty became a master gardener and volunteered at the local botanical center caring for new seedlings as they took root. She continued her vegetable and flower gardens overcoming her arthritis that made planting and weeding agonizing, leaving her chair bound the next day. 

Betty gardened as her parents gardened, the cycle of planting, harvesting and replanting invigorated her Midwestern sense of the natural order and the importance of sustaining the resources that gave us life. Her children followed her hoe and gardened knowing as she did, that things only grew when the soil was rich and fertile. Betty became a master gardener and volunteered at the local botanical center caring for new seedlings as they took root. She continued her vegetable and flower gardens overcoming her arthritis that made planting and weeding agonizing, leaving her chair bound the next day. 

Betty had to continue that cycle of life even as she neared the end of hers. First to bloom, first to bear fruit, first eaten, were topics of conversations on the weekly phone calls or the summer visits she had with the most die-hard gardening children every spring and summer and naturally, the last eaten. Her connection to the earth was home in the DNA she passed to her children. Betty took her gardening skills to help beautify the local neighborhood association’s boulevards and green spaces, helping create a sense of community identity and pride and became active volunteer. Soon after, she was elected President of the association and served for a year continuing her work to sustain and even grow the sense of community. 

 

Finally, there were no more options, and no more steps to consider. All of medicine and its technology could not bring Betty back to a life that she would want for herself. The children gathered that fourth morning and agreed that treatment was for the living, not for Betty. They asked the doctors to stop the oxygen and anti- biotics and any other assisted treatment. They wanted Betty to be moved to hospice for her final hours or even a day or two. Betty was disconnected from oxygen, kept on pain medication, and traveled across town in an ambulance to a hospice center. That center was like a small community that Betty was a part of before entering the last chapter of her life. Around Betty the nurses, her children, and those like them that waited for the end to come to the loved ones provided solace and strength. Even in her last two days and night, as her body shut down, the life of a community supporting each other swirled about her.

Faith played a personal but important part in Betty’s life. The church was her other community and the mission of the church and the good that it did was really Betty’s faith. Betty donated to environmental causes, such as the Wildlife Fund and Doctors without Borders for what each did to maintain that cycle of life, making sure there is a rebirth, even if there is death. Betty’s children in their professions of teachers, doctors, nurses and non-profits carried Betty’s charge. Betty was leaving a world where she had worked subtly to make sure her children carried that same flame of life. Not a surprise, but she was leaving a world where her children’s children had also received the baton of her philosophy. Betty had done her job well. Through her life, Betty stood up for causes to better the relationship humans had with nature and each other. But just as important, to always better herself, which was a lesson her children all chose to heed and follow her example.

RoseShe started entering her work in the State Fair photograph competition and would get at least honorable mention. They were good and many of them ended on her walls and those of her children, and certainly not out of any obligation. Betty was capturing her belief of the worth of life, and beauty, in those images, as she worked in Betty-sized chunks to strengthen the tie between the environment and human sustainability. Each image channeled Betty, and all were testament to her soul. One image, a tight exposure of a rose against a dark background, revealed the exquisite strength and frailty of the petals etched in their natural fabric. In all of its quiet beauty, and the knowledge of how that rose came to be, and how it lives, dies and is reborn, that rose was Betty and Betty was that rose. 

Betty left behind an inheritance of action and funds to her children. Part of her inheritance is captured in the direction, goals and passion of PRI. That legacy can be seen in its work as an institute, its projects, and its learning programs. Betty is seen in PRI’s overall intent to make sure the important cycle of life continues through revitalizing community through historical resources that can live again, while sustaining the strength of the community. Betty is PRI’s rich and fertile soil of social and environmental conscience.

The morning after she was moved to hospice, Betty, my mother, quietly slipped away in the mid-morning. It was the first day of Spring.