Betty Reddick, I’m going to miss you something awful

Betty BeanKnox Scene, North Knoxville

How could I not love Betty Reddick?

The first time I wrote about her she was giving “some of these old Democrat men” hell. Here’s the quote I used in that decade-old column:

“For too long now, women have been doing all the work (at party events). It’s women doing the cooking, setting up, serving. Men come in when it’s time to start and leave when it’s over and some of them didn’t like it when we asked for a seat at the table. Well, we are a majority. We need to be able to tell the party what to do.”

Betty Reddick in a rare picture

Reddick, the founding president of Democratic Women of Knoxville, issued this broadside at a 2011 DWK meeting in response to rumors that a coup was brewing against Gloria Johnson, who was then chair of the Knox County Democratic Party. Reddick was having none of it, and whatever was afoot evaporated in the heat of her wrath.

Who, I wondered, was this smart-mouthed, no-BS-taking telephone company retiree, and why didn’t I already know her?

So, I asked her to have lunch. We went to the Time Warp and she told me stories and lunch lasted till almost suppertime and I came away even more impressed. Again: why didn’t I already know this human dynamo? After all, Bettys are hovering on the brink of extinction – we’re going the way of Ethels and we need to stick together. And Ms. Reddick does the name proud.

Over the next little while I learned more about the causes she supported; the money she raised for organizations like the Teachers’ Depot, Mobile Meals, scholarship money for deserving students, women’s suffrage memorials and Democratic candidates too numerous to count – particularly women.

Because she is a partisan Democrat, of course. But every so often she’d surprise me with remembrances of her late friend Louise Zirkle, a longtime Republican Party activist who told Betty to live her life with no regrets, or by inviting Republican County Clerk Sherry Witt to a DWK meeting to talk about the difficulties divorced women were going to face getting issued the new, higher security, federally mandated drivers licenses.

Betty Reddick is practical, and she likes who she likes – besides, Witt was one of the only Tennessee GOP officeholders who helped lobby for a women’s suffrage celebration of the state’s pivotal role in passing the 19th Amendment (Reddick worked shoulder to shoulder with attorney/historian Wanda Sobieski on this, and on other suffrage projects as well).

She’s sneaky-smart, too, like the way she and her late husband, Jim, came up with the idea of sponsoring an annual Women of Faith celebration to counter the Republican effort to co-opt Christianity a partisan political issue. Over the years, she coaxed big-time political figures like Lilly Leadbetter (the Alabama tire factory worker for whom the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is named) and Sarah Weddington (the Texas lawyer who was 26 years old when she argued the Roe v Wade case before the United States Supreme Court) to give keynote addresses.

I could go on and on, but, sadly, I’m not writing this column solely to praise my friend Betty Reddick. I’m also writing to say goodbye.

Because Sunday was her last day in Knoxville. Those words are so hard for me to think, type or say that I’ve put off writing this farewell column until the very last deadline minute. That’s how sad I am that she’s leaving us after having lived in Knoxville since 1979. She’s had some health challenges over the past year that made her acutely aware that her family is a couple hundred miles away, in Springfield, Kentucky; and after considering the options, and with the encouragement of her many nieces and nephews, she has decided to go home.

It wasn’t an easy decision but once she made up her mind she didn’t fool around. She found an apartment in Springfield, donated most of her furniture to Habitat for Humanity, put her house up for sale, and was out of here two days after Christmas.

In a last sad coincidence, Sarah Weddington, whom we’d gotten to know when she came to Knoxville (Betty invited me to ride to Nashville with her to pick Sarah up at the airport), died on Betty’s last full day in town.

Betty, always practical, said at least Sarah will be spared the pain of watching the Supreme Court unravel Roe. And the next morning, Betty Reddick was gone.

But I’ve been thinking: Berea is on the road to Springfield, which is situated between Lexington and Louisville. It’s a perfect destination for a road trip. Who’s in?

Betty Bean writes a Thursday opinion column for

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