The visiting vocalists at Heritage Oaks Assisted Living in Conroe begin singing Let Me Call You Sweetheart, and Betty Jones, a resident since 2011, softly sings along. She moves her arms to the beat of the music and segues smoothly into the group’s next selection, Catch a Falling Star. She knows all the words. At 89, Betty is lively and cheerful. She has every reason to be. “I was blessed to have a good life,” she says.
Betty lived in Natchitoches, Louisiana nearly all her life. There she went to school, worked as a bookkeeper and a teller at People’s Bank, met and married her husband, Walter “Dub” Jones, and raised four children. During the 1980s and 1990s, she worked for the Natchitoches Area Chamber of Commerce and the Natchitoches Parish Tourism Commission for a combined 17 years.
“Everyone loved Miss Betty,” says Marilyn Mullikin, who worked with Betty at the Natchitoches Area Chamber of Commerce. “Everybody always remembers her fondly. She is a wonderful lady and truly loved by everyone.”
During her tenure with the Chamber of Commerce and the Tourism Commission, Betty was able to participate in the filming of the 1989 movie Steel Magnolias. It was one of the highlights of her life. “It was really a time of memories for me,” she says.
I went to work in the People’s Bank immediately after I finished high school. I couldn’t go to college. I was a bookkeeper, and then I became a teller. I worked there a long time. I knew everybody in town. In a small town, you do that. After leaving the bank, I became the head of the chamber of commerce and the tourism commission. I was lucky. It wasn’t anything I was striving for. I was the Beta Sigma Phi girl of the year and the chamber of commerce woman of the year. I was the woman of the year of the Louisiana Travel Promotion Association for two years in a row. I have been busy all my life. I am one of those people who have got to be in the middle of something. I was involved in the Catholic Church; Northwestern State University in some way, shape, or form; and Beta Sigma Phi sorority.
I was good friends with the Harlings. The daughter who died, Susan, was a Harling. It was really very emotional. She was a wonderful young lady. I didn’t know her that well. I was close friends with her mother, especially. It was tough. I went to the funeral. Her brother Robert Harling came to me and asked if I would mind going to New York with him to view the opening of the stage play. Then they came to me when they made the film. That is how I got involved with it. We were friends and lived in the same neighborhood. Robert Harling invited me to be in the movie. He positioned me. I am walking outside a window in one scene. They put me on the edge of the pew in church for the wedding scene, so I would be seen. When they made the movie scene where the daughter was dying, I sat with the mother right outside the window and watched while they filmed it.
I was with them day and night. They asked questions, and I would take them and show them around. I got to pretty much know them all. With my position, I was privileged to be with them a lot. It was nice. I was with Dolly Parton a lot. We were good friends. She is a great person. We just talked about everything—whatever was happening in the movie. We ate together and partied together. She was something else again, I will tell you. I was with her all the time, so I asked her for an autographed picture for my secretary’s mother, who was recovering from surgery. She said she would be thrilled to death to do it.
It was well done. I felt like the whole thing was good casting. Most of them really fit.
One of the things I love to remember is about my husband, Dub, who couldn’t have cared less. He was out in the yard working in the flowerbeds and talked to Tom Skerritt for a while. I asked him, “Honey, did you enjoy talking to Tom Skerritt? What did you talk about?” He said, “Who in the hell is Tom Skerritt?” I said, “Honey, you had a celebrity here.” He wasn’t impressed one bit. He couldn’t have cared less until Dolly Parton came along!
We were both from the same town, so I knew him. We were married. He died after our 50th anniversary. He waited. He died the morning after our 50th anniversary. I told him, “It’s all right, honey. We have been married 50 years. It’s OK.” I cried bushels. After I retired, I traveled all over the country. After I lost my husband, I did it by myself. That’s all that saved me. I just enjoy traveling.
New Orleans. There’s no place in the world like that. Did I tell you about the young man on the motorcycle? While I was traveling, he took to me; I don’t know why. He would come up to me on his motorcycle. This went on for miles and miles and miles. Then all of a sudden he waved to me that he was going to leave. I was far enough behind, and I don’t know why, but I watched him. He went on the highway and was killed. I couldn’t drive. I had to pull over, and I cried like a baby. I went into a business. They took care of me. They let me go into the back room and I just boo-hooed. You don’t just see a death in front of you and have it not affect you. You wonder why. Why are you there? You happened to be the one to see it. You wonder all your life, and I still do. He had been playing with me for miles. I was so shaken up. In fact, when they came to investigate, I was so shook up that I couldn’t move. They came and asked if anybody had witnessed it. I told them I didn’t want to talk about it. But I had to. He ran right out into the highway and got hit by a car. And I was seeing it and watching it. I thought I would never quit shaking. I get the shivers every time I think about it.
I didn’t start it, but I inherited it. I was in charge of the Festival of Lights. It was my baby. It’s one of the largest festivals in the nation. It was a gradual thing, but when it took off, it took off like a rocket. You can’t even get near Natchitoches when the festival is on, because of the traffic. I understand there have been a lot of changes since I left. I would love to go back. Natchitoches is really a neat little town.
Some of my kids lived here; I came here after I lost my husband.
My son, Dub, Jr. and his wife Wilma live here. My son Mike and his wife Kathy live in New Orleans. Melanie and her husband Barry live here. Angie and her husband Jimmy live in New Orleans. And I’ve got grandchildren running out of my ears!
I saw a lot of water go under the bridge, and it was good water!