by Henry Lane Hull
The Northern Neck has lost one of its greatest living repositories of our history and tradition with the death last week of Betty Fenwick. Betty was a native of Colonial Beach, where she spent her life absorbing its history and doing her part to pass it along to future generations. She found sheer delight in sharing her knowledge of the past with those coming along who otherwise might have overlooked it.
Betty was the daughter of Woodrow Morles Rollins, known to everyone as “Big Head.” Her mother was Dorothy Parker Rollins, the eldest child of the legendary Cap’n Henry Clay Parker, who founded Parker’s Crab Shore and the neighboring marina over a century ago.
During the Depression Mrs. Parker operated a bakery from her home while her husband worked on the water, built boats and with him operated the crab shore. After her early death, Big Head and Dorothy, better known as Dot, took over the crab shore and continued its renowned reputation for superb food and conviviality. Cap’n Parker and his son, Junior, continued to run the marina until his death in 1966. In that atmosphere Betty and her younger sister, Shirley, grew up, doing their part from an early age to contribute to the family business.
After Big Head and Dot retired, Betty and her husband, John, continued operating the crab shore with Shirley and her husband, Bobby Jenkins. Parker’s was a multi-family, multi-generational institution in Colonial Beach. Betty maintained her mother and grandmother’s reputation for wonderful cuisine, served with a smile. Big Head had been known for his culinary expertise in steaming crabs, a legacy he passed on to the next generation.
On weekend evenings the lines were long, but all who waited knew the time was worth their effort for they would come away having had a truly memorable dining experience. The crab shore was next to and under one of the most massive willow oak trees in the Northern Neck, and during Big Head’s tenure, he steamed the crabs outdoors beneath the tree. As youngsters Betty and Shirley enjoyed their work, greeting the patrons, and happily going about their roles in the family business. The tradition continued into the next generation as Betty and Shirley’s children came to help in the crab shore as well.
As retirement neared, Betty and John turned their part of the operation over to Shirley and Bobby, and settled in a home they had built on Marshall Avenue facing the crab shore. After John’s death Betty enjoyed sitting on her porch, watching the comings and goings at the crab shore, and visiting with all of her friends and former customers who would stop to say hello.
Shirley and Bobby ultimately sold the crab shore and after decades of Parker-Rollins, Fenwick-Jenkins management, it passed to new owners. Despite efforts to rejuvenate the business with a new sitting area on the pier and other structural improvements, Parker’s finally closed and the buildings were razed, thereby ending one of the most authentic Northern Neck experiences any of us ever had.
In retirement Betty was recognized as the authority on Colonial Beach’s past, always willing and eager to remind listeners of “the way things used to be.” When Cooperative Living magazine did an article on the beach, Betty was the featured interviewee. All her life she was an extraordinarily warm and friendly person who found her intended role in relating the present to the past for the benefit of those to come in the future. In speaking with her I frequently was amazed at how much detail she knew about my family, and ours was only one of the myriad that she had encountered over the years, but whose history she clearly retained.
Sadly, Betty, who was known far and wide for her retentive memory, developed problems with recollection and spent the last three years of her life as a memory care patient. She was the closing link to the wonderful legacy of Parker’s Crab Shore, its delicious cuisine, personal service and nostalgic atmosphere. As a teenager she was an exceptionally kind and thoughtful person and in that regard she never changed.
Elizabeth Irene, “Betty,” “Binky,” Rollins Fenwick, November 28, 1934 – July 27, 2019. R.I.P.