by Henry Lane Hull
In 1957, the late Meredith Willson brought forth his epic Broadway production, “The Music Man,” most of the editing of which was done by Gene Yeney, who subsequently retired to the Northern Neck and built a home at Mila. If anyone chose to compose a sequel, entitled “The Music Lady,” the obvious choice for a subject would be Kilmarnock’s own Betty Crandall.
For many decades Betty has taught piano and organ to generations of children and some adults as well, played the piano or organ at various churches and has been the musical presence at numerous weddings and funerals. For many of us any event with a musical component means that Betty will be there, enriching the occasion with her multi-talented contributions. Many couples have entered married life serenaded by her playing and many families have found solace in bidding farewell to their loved ones with her music in the background.
When the B.E.s were coming along, Betty had retired from teaching students, thus they missed studying under her tutelage. At present she has temporarily retired from being retired, as she is working on introducing her young great-grandson to the wonders of the piano.
Betty is a native of Kilmarnock, having been born in her family home, which is now the Kilmarnock Museum on Main Street. She and her first husband, John Kay, lived there until she sold the property to the museum. For many of us the museum remains “Betty’s house.” A few years after John’s death, Betty married David Crandall, a career employee of the telephone company, and moved to Boathouse Cove, barely outside the limits of her home town.
To say that Betty is a wealth of information about old Kilmarnock would be a gross understatement. The town is more than her birthplace and its people across the years are ensconced in her mind. To speak with her, the past returns to life and the spectrum of history assumes new meaning. The fabric of the town’s history takes on renewed dimensions when she discusses her memories of past people, places and events. Beyond Kilmarnock, given her extended family of relatives throughout the Northern Neck, she has witnessed the course of history personally in ways that few others have.
Betty spent much of her professional career, that is the part away from music, working with Virginia Power. She and David, among many other aspects, complemented each other by their careers having been spent serving the public through the two major utility companies found in our area. In retirement they enjoyed pursuing many of their common interests up until David died two years ago after a brief illness.
Betty and David were a model second marriage, each having lost a first spouse and then finding new happiness and purpose in one another. I liked to tell David that he had found the secret of perpetual youth, as his hair betrayed very few gray strands throughout his 85 years. Both he and Betty always seemed decades younger than their ages.
Following David’s death, in recent years Betty has returned to conducting Sunday religious performances during the services at Claybrook Baptist Church in Weems. As a church pianist or organist she offers a broad panoply encompassing the hymns that make up her extensive repertoire. When performing for a religious function she usually wears her choir robe that is also an important part of her musical persona.
This past Sunday, Betty became a nonagenarian, joining her first cousin, Louis Packett, who served for 36 years on the Richmond County Board of Supervisors, in that increasingly less rarified cadre. She manifests the twofold virtues of optimism and serenity, enjoying the world about her and contributing each day to its enhancement and beauty.
Happy Birthday, Betty! You are at the Peak of Youth!