Bettye Baldwin was born Elizabeth Josephine Brown on December 8, 1947, to Verna Bell Finch Brown and Samuel Henry Brown in San Antonio, Texas. On her mother’s side, her ancestry in the state stretched back before the Texas Revolution.
In her early years, she was known to her family as Bettye Jo. She loved animals from a very early age and aspired to have as many horses as she could. She was also a voracious reader, an aspiring writer, and enjoyed drawing and painting. Bettye Jo learned the ins and outs of running a diner from her mother, and the ins and outs of breeding, raising, and training dogs from her grandmother, Uncle R.F. and Aunt Nell.
In her teenage years, she made a friend who loved horses as much as she did and gained a bonus family in her heart. Margarete and her mother Hilda remained very important people to Bettye for the rest of her life. Margarete and Bettye’s horse adventures provided valuable lessons and fun tales to draw upon later in life. One particular mare, Rumba, was featured in many of these stories.
There was a brief marriage misadventure in her late teens/early twenties that produced a much beloved son, William David. Relocating to Austin, Bettye spent her early to mid-twenties providing for herself and David. This time period led to another bonus family in Bettye’s heart, the Ehrlichs– Ruth and Burney– and their children, Daryl, Elise, and Robert. Ruth helped watch David, and Bettye’s horses, and eventually, Burney was able to help Bettye secure a job at Tracor, Inc., where she met Larry Baldwin. Burney and Ruth then contrived to set Bettye and Larry up on their first “date” of repairing Bettye’s ailing car. Spaghetti was served for dinner that evening.
After securing Dottie’s permission– Bettye’s beloved Dalmatian protector– Bettye and Larry “eloped” on May 23, 1975, at the Travis County Justice of the Peace with a mere 13 witnesses to the ceremony. The wedding luncheon was BBQ, and the cake had yellow roses on top that were saved and stored in the freezer until sometime after their 25th wedding anniversary.
The Baldwins settled in Smithville, Texas, and built up a little farm of goats, chickens, and rabbits. Thanks to the household’s felines, particularly Shadow, the local snake population was kept at bay so their predations on the baby rabbits and chicks were not too severe. When David was in the 5th grade, Larry was able to adopt him, and so the Baldwins became a legally recognized family of three. Larry’s mom, Peggy, lived with them too. Although Bettye and Peggy occasionally had spats like any grown women sharing a house will, Peggy was one of Bettye’s dearest friends up until Peggy’s death in 1983. And Peggy entrusted her much beloved chihuahua, Misty, to Bettye and Larry for care afterwards.
Shortly before Peggy’s death, Bettye and Larry had a daughter. There’s an amusing story Bettye told many times about how in the search for a name for one of the goats’ kids, a friend suggested Chelsea, and Bettye and Larry decided to use it for their soon-to-be offspring instead.
At some point during the Smithville years, there was a fortuitous encounter at the vet’s office with another local family, the Peters, and Bettye gained an accomplice, Janine, in shenanigans related to the raising of children and livestock, and volunteering in the local community. This encounter and the subsequent friendship was a direct cause of many of the stories that Bettye reveled in recounting later in life. Also during the Smithville years, Bettye bought a Thoroughbred-Percheron cross, Doc, who at 18 hands high was rumored, maybe confirmed, to be the tallest horse in Texas for several years.
During Chelsea’s preschool years/David’s high school years, Bettye volunteered in the Mother’s Day Out program at First Baptist Church, Smithville, drove school buses for Smithville ISD, and delivered for Meals on Wheels to shut-in seniors in Bastrop county. This was in addition to the work involved in chauffeuring a pre-driving-age teenager to and from various extracurricular activities.
Eventually, David went off to college where he studied music, and Tracor, Inc., sold the division that Larry worked in to Baker Hughes, which moved operations to a campus in north Austin/Pflugerville. Bettye and Larry decided it would be nice to reduce Larry’s commute, and so they moved to the Hutto/Taylor boundary in Williamson county.
Bettye found a nice little 2.5 acres with a house that had wonderful horse potential, and so they moved and began improving the property to accommodate the equines’ needs, particularly Doc’s. Around this time, the family gained a new member when David married Kara.
For several years, Bettye worked on improvements to the property, overseeing Chelsea’s education and extracurricular activities (which involved a LOT of chauffeuring to and from various extracurricular activities), and took up crochet in her spare time. She was also training up the horses and ponies so that they would be suitable participants when she opened her instructional and boarding stables a couple of years later. The Internet also became a thing, so Bettye began growing a network of online friends that in more recent years became pocket pals with the advent of smartphones.
When Chelsea was in high school, an opportunity to purchase a larger property with a nice barn opened up and so the family moved. Shortly thereafter, Bettye began teaching horsemanship to children and boarding horses for a close friend of the family. More horses joined the stable, and some departed. For her 50th birthday, Bettye gifted herself a new horse, Monty, a Tennessee Walker gelding.
Bettye also began working on establishing a professional writing career during this time. These pastimes, the horses & lessons and writing, kept Bettye delightfully, and delightedly, occupied for about 15 years. And more people were added to the family of Betty’s heart, notably Camille and Cookie Tucker. Bettye trusted the Tuckers enough to allow them to provide Doc the retirement home he deserved.
Rather than become empty-nesters when Chelsea left for law school, Bettye and Larry adopted a couple of Cardigan Welsh Corgis– Babe and her son, Romeo (pictured with Bettye circa 2014).
Bettye was a storyteller, which is probably why she was drawn to writing. For tales shared within the family and friends circle, there were numerous retellings of adventures had while camping and exploring the country’s parklands. And of adventures had while caring for various animals or children. These stories may, or may not, have been intended to induce morbid embarrassment in David and Chelsea during their formative years, it just depended on the day and the occasion. For the fiction side of things, some of Chelsea’s favorite stories were about a dragon named Willifred that lived in the Smokey Mountains near Larry’s birthplace. Bettye also had a lovely back catalog of YA horse fiction and Stephanie Plum fan fiction among her written work, although they never found a home for publication. However, Bettye did have two nonfiction books published, one is a writers’ reference manual entitled “Horses for Writers” and the other is a book about horses for the still-learning-to-read crowd.
Bettye had both a pure and a wicked sense of humor. She would laugh uproariously at so many jokes and tales, both for the pure enjoyment of playing with language or envisioning people’s foibles, and also for the darker side of life when one can either laugh or cry. Even after she was diagnosed with cancer, her go-to reaction was laughter. When the family let Bettye’s Facebook friends know about her most recent illness and asked for memories to share with Bettye in her final days, nearly everyone mentioned her contagious laughter and infectious grin.
Shortly after Chelsea completed law school in 2009, Bettye was diagnosed with cancer. Serendipitously, Larry, Chelsea and David were with her when the doctor broke the news. At the time, Bettye’s odds of living five more years were given to be 40%.
Bettye underwent some then cutting-edge treatment and had almost six years of remission. During her remission, she rediscovered her love of drawing and painting and began cultivating her artwork. After remission, this story repeated itself and Bettye had another four-ish years of remission. And then was diagnosed for a third time which led to the need for this obituary as of June 10, 2021, less than three weeks after she and Larry observed their 46th wedding anniversary in a hospital. At the time of her death, once again Larry, Chelsea and David were by her side. Each was able to say a difficult yet precious goodbye to Bettye.
Two of Bettye’s grandchildren, Brent and Brooke, had the opportunity to spend time with her throughout their childhoods, and hopefully will appreciate some of the details of her life contained here. We hope the youngest grandchild, KG, will appreciate them too when she is a bit older.
Bettye’s family, especially Larry, will miss her profoundly. But, we are grateful that she has been released from the pain of a failing body, and those of us who believe in an afterlife hope that she will be reunited with all her loved ones, both two- and four-legged, that preceded her as well as those who will eventually follow her in death. As many people have said to us in recent days, Bettye loved deeply and was loved deeply in return.