Bettye Qualls Shaver - 1926-1999
One remembers her amid welcoming brightness. Bettye Shaver of Sherwood, Arkansas, met the world with a gold butterfly pinned to her shoulder, and sent good will before her, everywhere she went. Candy and giggling tagged along, and her iris friends knew adventure was never far behind.
Her sudden death September 15, 1999, broke hearts across the state of Arkansas. Bettye's struggle had been so patient, her energy so boundless, it had been all too easy to forget the worsening asthma that dogged her for 12 lively years.
Members of the Society for Louisiana Irises met Bettye and her husband, Allen Shaver, in May 1999 when the SLI convention tour stopped in her garden beside silvery Indianhead Lake. Each visitor carried away a little gift. Everyone who ever left this woman's presence did so with a "little gift.
Bom September 13,1926, the youngest child of John Henry Qualls and Sallie Bell Haley Qualls was reared with a farmer's virtues, especially generosity. Mr. Qualls set the example for his five children by opening his farm's blacksmith shop to his neighbors in Evening Shade, Arkansas, and trading chores with them. After Sallie Bell died, Bettye' s stepmother, Mollie Hill Qualls, taught her to garden.
Bettye graduated from Evening Shade High School, attended beauty school and worked long hours as a hairdresser. Her son David Shaver believes she must have been quite a horsewoman in her teens, but apparently she gave up riding as a young mother. Instead she operated a beauty parlor in her home and surrounded it with flowers.
She was hired by North Arkansas Electric Co-op in 1956 just as electricity threaded its way into rural Sharp County, and she stayed with the company 20 years. When she married Allen in the late 1970s, they moved to Birmingham, Alabama, where Bettye worked for Hallmark Cards and for First National Bank of Birmingham. Blending their families, the Shavers had three sons and a daughter, and eventually three grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
In the 1980s, the couple moved to Sherwood where Bettye began making herself indispensable as a garden-club peacemaker. In the 1990s when the TV sitcom "Evening Shade" sparked a preservationist frenzy in her tiny hometown, she threw herself into promoting "The Evening Shade Cookbook," charmed reporters and even danced with Burt Reynolds at a fund-raiser for a new gymnasium. The actor told everyone she was one sexy lady.
Members of the Central Arkansas Iris Society fell in love with her. She served as the club's secretary and treasurer, and won ribbons in the show with such genuine delight it wasn't painful to lose to her.
As SLI Convention 1999 registrar, she took on more detailed labor than anyone could calculate. She also tapped her statewide connections to gather the fat stash of goodies each convention goer took home from Little Rock, and she decorated and filled the bags while helping prepare a granddaughter's wedding. Just weeks before the convention, CAIS President Lucie Burley was sidelined to tend her ailing husband, and Bettye joined Phyllis Newton in gathering the silent auction.
No request was too much work, and no inconvenience made her resentful. When excessive rain swept two of the club's rhizomes away in November 1998, she felt personally responsible, as though she had somehow made the lake rise. Two months later a fisherman hooked one of those wandering irises. He knew immediately where to take it, because her neighbors all admired the gentle, laughing woman who rang the bell and fed the Canada geese and filled her yard with loveliness.
Bettye Shaver's sweet memory lives on among a legion of friends. They only wish that she did, too.