Betty Terry: Her Life History, by Ray Terry

(Delivered by Raymond J. Terry during Betty's memorial service on 02/26/2011.)

Betty Davis Terry was born Bessie Glendora Wilson on January 15, 1930 in Cheswold, Delaware to Grace Wilson, who was living with her Methodist parents. Times were tough for this sharecropping family. After living with her mother’s family for 3 years, Bessie was sent to live with her childless Aunt Pearl Whiteman in Philadelphia. Aunt Pearl informally changed her name to Betty Whiteman and wanted to adopt her, but her harsh discipline alienated Betty. Betty told us a story – one winter day she had a hang nail. She was told not to pull it off. If she came back in from playing and it was gone, she would be punished. She went out to play wearing mittens. Once in a while she pulled off a mitten to check out the hangnail. After the 3rd check the hangnail was OFF! When she went back into the house she was spanked with the back of a hair brush.

Wilson Seville Davis married Grace in 1934 and about 1936 brought Betty to live with them in Wilmington, Delaware. It was one of the happiest days in Betty’s life. She retained ‘Betty’ as a given name.

Because Betty was known to be from a mixed race family and because of segregation she attended what were then called “colored schools” from elementary school through High School. Delaware had 3 school systems at that time - 1 for whites, 1 for blacks and 1 for Indians and mixed race. Graduating from High School in the top ranks of her class in 1947, she was accepted as a student at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

While in New York City on a work-study assignment, in her spare time she attended modern dance classes taught by Martha Graham, a noted teacher of dance at that time. Although injuries cut short Betty’s dreams of a professional dance career, her love of music and dance remained important sources of joy and self-expression throughout her life.

After completing her undergraduate education at Antioch in 1954, she married a classmate. She was hired to teach by Antioch College’s Elementary Lab School, devising experimental teaching techniques. After divorce she received a Danforth Fellowship to attend Wittenberg University in Ohio, earning a Masters of Education Degree.

In 1961, Betty and her parents took a road trip through the western states. They were in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and were alerted to “a big Mormon Convention in town.” To avoid the crowds, they left Jackson Hole and wound up at Idaho Falls where they saw the beautiful Idaho Falls temple. They were invited into the Visitor’s Center and were told they were just in time to see the Joseph Smith story. Wilson Davis was impressed with the presentation and wanted to be baptized right away but was told to receive the Missionaries first. They traveled back home east to Delaware and received instruction from the Elders. Wilson and Grace were baptized. Betty studied and prayed and a few months later was also baptized after she heard a voice telling her to be baptized while she was praying for guidance.

Betty moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan. After finishing her first year of teaching and freezing during the Michigan winter, she was hired by University of Hawaii’s Lab School in 1962. She taught Beehives class in Makiki Ward and liked to attend baptisms, one of which happened to be ME, but we did not converse at the outdoors font. We later met at a Road Show rehearsal. After chatting awhile, Betty called the Bishop over and said, “Ray needs a church job”. I was called to be the MIA Secretary (the youth’s organization) and was given access to membership records AND learned that Betty was over 6 years my senior. I was shocked…and downcast.

One Sunday we attended church service at the Church College of Hawaii, about 35 miles from Honolulu. We were riding in an Austin-Healey Sprite sports car with the top down, and were suddenly drenched by a sudden downpour. We decided to dry off by driving the around the Island on a scenic drive, ending in Waikiki at a drive-in restaurant, Kau Kau Kitchen, where we had a long, damp talk. The age difference turned out to be a non-issue. We later joked that the spread in ages meant that we would go to the next world together since women generally live 6 years longer than men.

Noting the large numbers of less active singles in the Ward, Betty and Ray proposed the creation of a Singles organization modeled on one in Salt Lake City. After working on its organizational structure and membership we confessed to the Bishop that they were no longer candidates – we were marrying. And we were, on a day which would not be forgotten, December 7, 1963. Because we were both only children, we decided to return to the mainland to be near our parents when Betty discovered she was carrying our first child.

We settled in the D.C. suburbs, in Brentwood, MD, to be near my employer in D.C. and the University of Maryland. Our first child, Elizabeth, a great Hawaiian conception, was born in 1965, William in 1966, Frances in 1968, Ellen in 1970 and David in 1977. Betty resumed her teaching career briefly between the births of Elizabeth and William. She always loved to teach: from teaching her dolls as a child to teaching positions at school and church, teaching her own children and her husband, all the while setting an example of charity, virtue, unselfishness and stressing the value of higher learning.

After being a homemaker and church leader she returned to school teaching, receiving a teaching recertification in 1983, concentrating in special education. She taught in the Prince George’s County public school system from 1983 to 1995, at the same time raising teenagers and taking care of aging parents. Her father’s and mother’s health were failing. She drove to Delaware on the weekends to make sure they had food to eat for the week and they were taken care of by Meals on Wheels and by members of the Dover Delaware Ward. A year later Wilson and Grace moved into our home. Betty cared for them until their deaths, Wilson in 1994 and her mother in 1999.

Betty retired from public school teaching in 1995. Because of her mother’s deteriorating health, Betty was not called to a church position until 1997 as a stake missionary. This was possible because our fellow missionaries agreed to meet weekly in our home.

All 3 of us served a mission at the LDS Business College Salt Lake City late 2001 to mid 2003. She became a mother to 10 international students who worked at the college cafeteria. Many of the girls remained in contact with her.

Upon arriving home from the LDS Business College at the end of 2003, Betty was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The good old days in Hawaii were revisited when we moved to Honolulu for 6 years from 2004 to 2010. We became Ward Missionaries. As an example of her caring and love, she agreed to take in a Micronesian family who had been evicted until they were prepared to return to their home in Pohnpei, Micronesia. Her big heart was welcoming to those in need… and open to those who were different. She loved the beauty and warmth and aloha of the Islands.

We moved back to Maryland permanently in April 2010 to be closer to our children and because of Betty’s progressing infirmities. Ellen’s family came to live with us to help out. All of us celebrated our 47th wedding anniversary, December 7, 2010.

On February 21, 2011 at 11:03 pm., Betty stopped breathing. She was at home surrounded by Frances, Ellen & Ellen’s family, David and was holding Ray’s hand when she passed from this mortal sphere.

We love you Betty. Any wait to meet you again will be too long.


  1. A wonderful life history.
    Thanks so much for sharing.
    I feel fortunate to have met Betty in person on a couple of occasions--at least once in Delaware and once at my home in Florida--and her love & dedication to family history will surely be missed.
    With deepest sympathy,
    John C. Carter

  2. S. Eileen JohnsonMarch 8, 2016 at 5:44 AM

    A dearest friend Betty...
    First as roomate (1960?), then as smitten-in-love-Betty, and then as Mrs. Ray Terry, most happy wife and mother... and over the years grand chef-dinner-party wonder! Surrounded by her open loving happy self and Ray and family I was given sustaining warmth on holidays and family gatherings. She and you, Ray, remain part of the fabric of my life, a blessing that is always with me. She was a great gift. I KNOW she's happy still.

    God Bless,
    S. Eileen