She always wears hat to church

P-I Staff Writer


willb1.jpg (26778 bytes) Bethel Williams shows the oldest hat in her collection — one she has had since before she was married in 1940.                                  Staff photo by Ann Broach

Bethel Williams surveys a small portion of her hat collection. —
Staff photo by Ann Broach
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Watching her go about her many varied activities, it might be difficult to tell that this spry woman is already in her ninth decade of life.

For Bethel Williams of Paris, it so far has been a life she describes as full and happy with no regrets.

A Big Sandy native, she was born Feb. 3, 1918, a daughter of the late Ed and Aliene Akers Cantrell. She has one sister, Ann Kendall, also of Paris.

The family moved to North Brewer Street in Paris — three times — in 1929.

“The first time we moved, we hadn’t been here too long when Daddy and I got homesick, so we moved back to Big Sandy. Then a short time later, we moved back to Paris and again got homesick so we went back to Big Sandy. Daddy then sold the land in Big Sandy and we moved back to Paris to stay in November.

“The transfer company man told Daddy he would not move us again. Daddy said that was OK because he didn’t have any place to move back to,” she said with a laugh.

She was married to Charlie Williams on Feb. 17, 1940, in the parlor of First Baptist Church. H.S. Stembridge officiated the ceremony.

After graduating from Grove High School in 1935, she began working in September 1936 at First Trust and Savings Bank, formerly of Paris, She worked for Sears from 1949 until she quit that job to become the office manager for her husband at State Farm Insurance.

She worked with her husband for about 25 years before they retired in 1977. He died in 1993.

Today, her family includes one daughter, Jane (Richard) Davis, and two granddaughters, Cindy Claiborne and Kimberly (Tommy) King, all of Nashville. She recently became the great-grandmother of Davis Tyler King, who is 6 months old.

She said she knew her future husband’s family and had been to parties where he attended. At the time she first went out with him, he had been dating an acquaintance of hers.

“We met on a five-dollar bet through (the late) Johnny Dale. Johnny bet Charlie five dollars he couldn’t get a date with me. That’s why we always said he got me on a five-dollar bet,” she said with a laugh.

The home where she lives was the only one for she and her husband.

“This house was built in 1889 by the Gatlin family. They hauled all the lumber here from their mill in Buchanan. Daddy purchased the house in public auction in 1939. The woman who lived there was ill and in those days, you couldn’t get an ailing person out when the property was sold. Her son finally moved her to another state and we moved in May 1940.”

She and her new husband lived in an upstairs “penthouse,” as she called it, while her parents lived in the lower portion of the house.

“You wouldn’t believe how much room is up there,” she added.

When she and her husband later moved to the lower level, “We moved all the furniture now in the house downstairs ourselves, except for one couch and one chair which we bought. We had it all upstairs.”

Williams has a large collecton of hats, most of which she still wears. She estimates that between the two seasons, winter and summer, she probably has about 50, with no two exactly the same. The oldest in the collection is one she has had since before she was married.

She said she has had an interest in hats since she was a child.

“Miss Mag Lindsey sold hats. Her granddaughter and I were best friends and we went to her shop frequently. I was always trying on matronly hats.

“I have have to stretch my hats. I don’t have a big head, but it’s a matronly size. So I was wearing matronly style hats as a young girl.”

She always wears one of her hats to church.

“I have never been in the sanctuary without a hat. I feel more reverent,” she said.

“When we retired I told Charlie I wanted to do one of two things: open a hat shop or a detective agency,” she added.

At 90, she remains active in a number of organizations.

One is Martha Chapter 155, Order of the Eastern Star, where as a 70-year member she has one of the longest local memberships. She has served as OES treasurer for 69 years.

“I’ve done a lot of committee work and sold a lot of hamburgers and hot dogs in days past. When they talk about working on the kitchen area, I always remind them that funds from those sales bought that sink and cabinets and they should think before they replace them.”

Another organization where she holds a long membership is Quota, which she joined in 1964. Her longest held position was committee chairman of publicity, which she held for 30-35 years. She also served two times as district secretary-treasurer.

“I attended all the international conventions from 1966 to the mid-1980s except one in Kansas City. I have met a lot of friends all over the world as it is now in fourteen countries. I maintain contact with many of them.”

Through Quota’s community service committee, she also is a volunteer for the Lifeline Bloodmobile program.

After she she retired in 1977, she became a member of the Blossomway Garden Club, which she joined to be with her sister. She has served as corresponding secretary for the group.

“Now I get so much more out of it than just the flowers because I don’t do that much with the flowers anymore. The friendships mean a great deal,” she said.

In the political arena, she has been a member of the Republican Women since that group organized about 15 years ago.

“I have brought in new members and served on committees, but not held a high office,” she said.

Williams also enjoys an active participation at First Baptist Church, where she and her husband became members in January 1943. She has been a member of the Fidelis Sunday school class since the 1940s.

“Both of us went to the Methodist church a couple of years after we were married but we both had leaned toward the Baptist church. One Sunday, he said, ‘I’m going to the Baptist church,’ and I told him I was going with him. I’ve been here ever since.”

She now oversees the church’s welcome center each Sunday, a position she said she might not be able to do without the help of Ken Hanna.

“Before the welcome center was built, I was a greeter in the vestibule. I had two helpers each Sunday to greet visitors when they entered,” she said.

“The greeting thing has always fallen as my job. It’s just one of my responsibilities.” She said when she was first asked to greet people, it was because she knew so many people and could easier recognize the visitors.

She attributes her current vigorous life to eating a healthy diet and keeping her house clean.

“I can’t exercise because of my knees, but look at the size of this house. I get a lot of exercise-like movement just keeping it in order.

“I’ve always been very active. Charlie pulled me back many times saying I was moving too fast,” she recalled.

“I’ve been so fortunate. I have had several medical events but came out of them. Now I only have arthritis.”

She also attributes much of her health to daily consumption of her own recipe of jogging in a jug — a combination of fruit juices, honey and apple cider vinegar.

“Daddy turned me loose on the A Model when I was fourteen years old. As long as I can keep my self confidence about driving, I can take myself anywhere I want to go. I still drive to Memphis, Nashville, Paducah and Jackson,” she said, adding she has never gotten a speeding ticket.

“I’ve had a happy life. Mom and Dad said I was a happy child from the day I was born.”

By spending just a brief time with this diminutive lady, it’s easy to tell that she will always find somewhere to go or something to do. That’s what she’s always done.

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Mary Bethel Cantrell
Class  of  1935


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Reprinted  from
The Paris Post-Intelligencer
Paris, Tennessee
September 16, 2008 Edition ~ Used  by  permission