Betty Langley: Wake Forest’s Newest Centenarian

By Lisa Brown

For most of us, living to 100 is hard to imagine. Betty Langley of Wake Forest will hit that impressive milestone on January 25, and isn’t showing many signs of slowing down.

Born in 1915 in rural Wake County, Miss Betty was raised on a farm and worked hard for her sharecropper family. Her life was never an easy one. She and her brother and three sisters walked to school and church many times barefoot. It was a five mile walk from their remote farm to their one-room school house and to church. It was a difficult one in the cold and heat of summer.

Her family’ rented house was a small log house structure with flimsy shingles that allowed rain to come through during storms. Buckets and pails caught drops until the rain subsided.

All of the children worked the fields when not in school and back then, Miss Betty remembers, “We had to pick the cotton by hand.” Not an easy task for anyone, especially a child.

They also grew and harvested peas, beans, corn and, of course, tobacco. Their clothes were hand-sewn from fertilizer bags or cornmeal bags, and those worn to church were taken especially good care of. “You respect God, and put on your best to meet him,” she says.

As hard as those moments were for her, there were some darker times in Miss Betty’s life. When she was 13, her mother and stepfather went to Pennsylvania to see his parents after receiving a telegram telling of their recent illness. Not long into the trip, the family received a telegram that stated Miss Betty’s mother had suddenly taken ill and died. It was everyone’s belief that she was killed by the stepfather. It is still Miss Betty’s assertion today that she was murdered, and she speaks sadly of her mother whom she loved so dearly but lost so tragically.

After this, she and her siblings moved to an aunt and uncle’s house, which was not a happy home life they had had with her parents. There were many times they didn’t have enough food and there was always a lot of fussing about them being there.

In another incident, Betty was burned with a hot shovel on her inner thighs by her uncle and brother. Her mother was still alive then and, as Miss Betty puts it, “she tore them up.”

In spite of all of this, Miss Betty found a good man to marry and stayed married for 60 years until he passed away from cancer. They had a daughter born in 1935 who lives with Miss Betty in their apartment. What is most impressive is that she and her husband took in 10 more children because, Miss Betty says, “It hurt me so bad to see them mistreated.”

Their house was not lavish and she and her husband were hard-working sharecroppers, but together they tried to raise the children and give them the best chances. “Some of them turned out OK; some didn’t. But I did my part,” she says. “I enjoyed those children. They never got into trouble and they were never hungry and never ragged.”

Miss Betty has a good sense of humor and recalls many stories with a laugh and a twinkle in her eye. One in particular is about watching some of the kids going off with her husband and upon returning telling Betty everything they had done and everywhere they had gone. But, when they went with her, they didn’t tell her husband anything. He would often remark about this, wondering why they told on him and not her. “I don’t know, why don’t you ask them?” she laughed.

She recalls her husband with affection. “We got along fine, and he never fussed at me or asked me where I was going,” she says.

Miss Betty even took a second job at night, after working long days on the farm. She went into Raleigh and stuffed chickens. “I didn’t have to do it, but I liked to work.”

The later years for Miss Betty have been easier in some ways, but the physical strain of her life has caught up to her. Her shoulders are forever damaged from lugging firewood and chopping tobacco stalks. She has had several hospitalizations and two of them were for up to six months. Her heart has stopped twice, and she has had heart and knee surgery. Just recently she had a pacemaker put in. She’s in need of teeth, hearing aids and even just support hose that cost more than she has and that Medicaid won’t supply.

Miss Betty no longer leaves her house because injuries she suffered in a car accident five years ago have made getting around difficult. Her walls are adorned with pictures of babies, children and many mementos of her life.  A nurse visits daily, as do volunteers from Meals on Wheels, all of whom adore Miss Betty. She gets around her house by herself with some difficulty but manages. She still insists on doing as much as she can.

“Someday, I’m going to really need the help, so for now, I’ll do what I can,” she says.

When asked what the secret and key to her longevity is, for her it’s simple. “The Bible tells you that if you’re obedient, you will get more time. I guess somewhere along the way, I was obedient.”

She remembers her life as being filled with ups and downs and says, “It wasn’t always easy. But I looked up to God.”

Miss Betty is grateful and happy with her life. “I wouldn’t have done it