And I thought I knew Betty Jo

Betty Jo Winter in a photo taken about the time she worked at Oak Ridge during World War II. She was 16 years old at the time.

When the grand CCHS Class of 1969 gathered recently for our 50-year reunion, we asked our class members to share one things about themselves that no one else knew.

These are people that I have known for half a century—some much longer—and I was still amazed to learn that Roland ‘Trey’ Dykes, III, our current Newport mayor, once interviewed for a job he didn’t get.

The job was that of Women’s Basketball Coach at the University of Tennessee. He lost out to a young woman named Pat Head.

I hope Trey has told his son about that experience. It’s a perfect example of the stories we’re looking for to include in the Newport Plain Talk’s upcoming special edition of Smoky Mountain Homeplace.

Let the Stories Be Told is planned for late October, so you still have time to share the stories that always get told when your family gathers for a reunion, wedding, funeral, or other special occasion.

They can be old—perhaps handed down from Civil War days—or more recent—perhaps last year. They can be serious, funny, thought-provoking, and even downright unbelievable – short or long – just as long as they are your family’s stories

I can always count on good friend Garry Brooks for some stories from his family. He sent one this week about his first cousin, Betty Jo Winter Miller.

Many of you remember Betty Jo, perhaps as a teacher at Cocke County High School, or perhaps with her work with 4-H Club members or the Heartsease Garden Club. We at First United Methodist Church remember her loving care for our children in the nursery.

I can say I knew Betty Jo well. She was my typing teacher at CCHS and was a force to be reckoned with. She tolerated no mischief in her classroom and kept an eagle eye on the only electric typewriter we had. Each of us was allocated a certain number of minutes with this mechanical marvel—no more—no less.

One day, however, I inadvertently caused her stern demeanor to slip when I literally fell out of my chair. It was warm weather and the windows were open. A sudden breeze sent one of my papers flying off my typing table and when I lunged to grab it, my chair tipped and shot across the room on the newly-waxed floors, sending me sailing across the aisle. Betty Jo witnessed the whole episode and collapsed in laughter, something we rarely saw.

On another occasion, she chaperoned me and several other 4-H members on a trip to Nashville to study our state government. Brenda Renner and Patsy Gail Ottinger, both of Parrottsville, were along for that trip, too.

During a lengthy and (I thought) boring meeting one night at the War Memorial Building, I talked about a dozen others into slipping out for a night on the town. We wound up at the movie, “The Russians Are Coming.”

On our way back to the hotel, I was amazed at the number of people still on the streets of Nashville. After all, I was “Country Come to Town” personified.

Upon our arrival at the hotel, there sat Betty Jo and about every official in the State of Tennessee. The governor might have been there.

To say they were unhappy is quite an understatement. They were frantic, because it seems we had walked right through the middle of a race riot.

As the years passed, my association with Betty Jo and Darius grew into a deep friendship. Betty Jo and I taught together at Cocke County High School for many years and she helped mother me when my mom died in 1977.

I thought I really knew Betty Jo.

But what I DIDN’T know was the story of her time working at Oak Ridge during World War II when she was only 16 years old.

And that’s the story Garry is sharing with us about his beloved cousin.

I’m positive you have stories that need to be recorded and told. Please share them with us.

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