BY: ROBIN COWHERD
rom the beginning of her life Betty Trout, who was born in 1926 along with her twin brother, learned the importance of priorities. Her life began in the Martinsburg, West Virginia where she lived with her father, mother and grandparents. Her father, a highly respected banker and community leader, saw that young Betty had a comfortable family life despite the impact of the country’s Great Depression during the first ten years of her life. Betty cannot remember being deprived in the midst of the Depression when a large percentage of families lost their life savings and their homes. Her friends had the same attitude. She spent a lot of time at the Methodist church in Martinsburg where the scout meetings and church activities dominated her life outside the home. Sunday School was on the first floor of the building and worship services were held on the second floor. No elevators were in the building and everyone had to walk up the stairs to church. Walking was an activity to which everyone was accustomed. Betty walked to church, she walked to school and her mother walked to the grocery store. The high school was located more than one mile from her home and walking was the main transportation. Betty liked the walk and said, “We would meet friends along the way and walk with them. It was fun!”
Life was clearly different as a youth in the 1940s. There was no television to watch at home but Betty remembers her father coming home from work many days and settling into his chair to listen to the radio. Betty did not learn to drive until she was married. “Not driving was not a problem,” she says, “we walked everywhere.” Following graduation from Martinsburg High School, Class of 1944, Betty headed off to the Mary Washington Women’s College of the Betty Trout at Mary Washington University of Women’s College of the University of Virginia in Freder- Virginia icksburg, Virginia. Her degree major focused on the study of psychology. Upon graduation, Betty returned to Martinsburg and began working as a child psychologist in the newly constructed Mental Hygiene Clinic. “I really didn’t think I was qualified for the job and I was uncertain I had the proper training, but I kept at it for an entire year.”
Betty Trout in Martinsburg, West Virginia
Ater the year of working in Martinsburg, she moved to Norfolk in 1950. She landed a job as Assistant to the Dean at the Norfolk College of William and Mary and VPI, the predecessor of Old Dominion University. It was the 1950s and Betty lived in a rented room from a woman in the Larchmont section of the city. “I took my evening meals at the home of another woman down the street,” she said. That walk down the street proved life changing because living in a home a door or two from where Betty had her meals was a young man by the name of Wilbur Marshall. Betty shared, “He would often come out of the house to walk his dog and, well, we just got together.” Wilbur knew the woman who owned the rooming house and called often to speak with Betty. She thought he was a respectable gentleman, so they began dating.
Betty learned early on in their relationship that Wilbur was also a twin. Conversations about growing up as a twin occurred quite frequently. They were married in 1951 at the Larchmont Methodist Church. The Marshall couple always wanted their four children to grow up as Christians. They all attended the Methodist Church, where their children were baptized and attended Sunday School. Betty acknowledged that the children did “quite well” in their Christian education. She smiles and says, “we had so many happy times with our children in the church.” Now, in addition to her four children Betty has six grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
In the 1980s Betty and Wilbur joined First Presbyterian Church of Norfolk and both of them served in multiple ministries. Wilbur was an Elder and held other church lay leadership positions. Their love for one another on earth lasted for 48 years. He died in 1999, but their love remains a part of Betty’s life. Betty still participates in the Hand-in-Hand Women’s Bible Study and is one of the “Bulletin Beauties,” a sensational group of devoted women who assemble worship bulletins every Thursday morning. Betty’s eyes light up when she describes her joy of family. She says that her dreams and goals today are not much different than years earlier. She doesn’t travel as much these days as she did earlier in life, but that does not bother her. When she does travel, her daughter Dale and granddaughter Catherine do most of the planning.
She still drives during daylight hours, lives by herself in her home, and declares she does her own cleaning “a little at a time.” Betty exudes happiness in describing granddaughter Catherine. Catherine lives in Richmond and is a member of a faith community there. Betty attends services with her from time-to-time. She is particularly proud of the young woman Catherine has become and is thrilled to receive her beautiful emails written in wonderfully descriptive writing style to describe her life experiences. Catherine’s son, Teddy, now two years old, has a congenital heart defect and has had multiple surgeries. Great grandson Teddy remains in Betty’s prayers and she regularly requests the prayers of her First Presbyterian family for his healing.
Betty’s faith is primary in her life and is inextricably connected with her family. She believes her life of faith has helped their family stay together. “The church community gives meaning to life,” she says.” She adds, “The community helps you grow in faith, and helps teach you where to put your emphasis in life.” Her devotional reading of My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers is a daily discipline first thing every morning. Perhaps the most difficult life challenge for Betty has been reconciling Wilbur’s death in her life. “Everyone in our community has been so dear to me and expressed their feelings of what they thought of him. To this day, people still remember Wilbur and share stories of him with me. When they speak of him, it means a lot.”
Her son, Drew, has also had a profound effect on her life. Drew’s wife Jeanie was involved in an accident a number of years ago which left her confined to a wheelchair. She is a dedicated Christian. For Betty, watching Drew serve Jeanie and his kindness to her is a gesture of beauty. As she speaks of Drew she tries to carefully capture the right words, “what Drew’s wife experiences is his great love for her in the great Christian tradition!” If a young person asked her, “what’s the most important thing for living a good life,” Betty again chooses her words carefully. But in a confident voice she says, “Love one another and God will direct your life. Always remember Him and be true to Him.” Faith, family, and friends … the three values Betty Marshall points to for living a long and spiritually productive life. At age 91, she lives them every day!
Super Seniors by Robin Cowherd Issue 1