Paul West sat with folded hands resting on a hardwood table as afternoon sunlight poured through nearby windows. The 87-year-old minister was overwhelmed by grief, but took great delight in sharing a story precious to him. With sincere emotion, he recalled memories of his late wife, Betty West.
“She was a godly woman,” he said, “the total package, in my mind.”
Paul and Betty West
Betty died Oct. 29, 2015 at the age of 82, leaving behind her husband, three daughters, quite a few grandchildren and a 60-year legacy of faithful service as the wife of a North Carolina Baptist minister.
West was accompanied by one of his daughters, Anita Wilson, to the upstairs room of a brownstone building in historic Chapel Hill. They agreed to an interview to provide a glimpse into the life of a God-fearing lady that walked alongside her husband in ministry for decades on end.
Their hope was that many young pastors’ wives might be inspired to follow her example.
She embodied grace and strength, West said, epitomizing the Christ-like balance of sweet-spirited hospitality with rugged faithfulness.
He attributed much of Betty’s character to her upbringing.
She was born in 1933 and raised near Bryson City, N.C. Her family lived without motorized transportation, as did many rural highlanders in the early 20th century. Betty’s parents were churchgoing people, so the family walked four miles to and from corporate worship each week.
“Growing up in the mountains must have toughened Betty,” said West. “She had a strong faith … from the time she was baptized as a girl in the Little Tennessee River until her last breath.”
Her mother died when Betty was only nine years old, and she lost her father at 16. West said it was the lasting effect of their absence that impressed upon Betty the great need for showing love in a timely way.
Her elder siblings took care of Betty as best they could, but the relational void left by her parents was noticeable.
“She seemed to have a hunger for fellowship with anyone she could engage in conversation,” he said. One of her favorite activities as a minister’s wife was visiting church members.
“Her spirit, her sweet attitude, her warm heart and her winsome ways stood out head and shoulders,” he added. “She had character.”
At various points in their six decades of ministry together, Betty served as a Sunday School teacher, member of the Woman’s Missionary Union and church secretary. She even typed her husband’s sermon notes regularly.
Betty’s practice of typewriting his documents stretched back into the early days of their relationship, when West was still enrolled at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas.
“She was ready to do anything that would enhance my ministry,” he said. “She was so supportive and as smart as a whip.”
Betty showed endless loyalty to her pastor-husband, and exuded meekness.
“Anything but a holier-than-thou type of person,” West remembered, “she was humble.”
His tenure as a minister spanned eight churches, and most of them were relatively small. As a result, they lived with a reasonable income that was far from lavish.
“She denied herself of so much,” he said, “knowing that we just didn’t have the means.”
She knew God would provide, added Wilson.
West shared an instance of particular humility that occurred while he and Betty were living in a church parsonage, which they did nearly all their marriage.
They returned home from an outing to find an unannounced deacons’ meeting in their living room. The parsonage was, after all, the church’s property.
“This pastor’s wife, like many others,” he said, “was not able to choose the home in which she lived. “But she was content, and very grateful for the home the church provided … never did I hear her complain.
“I loved that spirit, the unselfishness about her,” he said.
Her sensitivity toward others was only overshadowed by her affection for God, he added. “She knew how to talk to the Lord.”
When asked what Betty would say to a young pastor’s wife looking ahead to a life of ministry, Paul answered, “She would say first of all that you really need to look at this as your calling as well.
“And that you will be a major part of his ministry, so be prepared for that.
“There will be hard times. It will require patience, fortitude, courage, strength, reliance upon our Heavenly Father and a lot of prayers. But the joys and the rewards and the [spiritual] compensation will far outweigh the struggles.”