Bettie Casey, a beloved woman of many talents, friends, and accomplishments, who had an endless passion for learning and creativity, died peacefully in her sleep, at her cottage at The Pines in Davidson, North Carolina on July 19, 2017; her cherished dog Wags at her side.
Bettie Ann Casey (formerly Richardson) was born on January 2, 1931, at Charlotte’s old Presbyterian Hospital and graduated from Central High School. From there she launched into the world, with a passion. She traveled through 3 continents and more than twenty countries. Raised by an intrepid Southern mother, Lillibel, who encouraged her 4 daughters and 1 son to be remarkable individuals, they flourished, even at the height of the Depression.
Bettie was known foremost in Charlotte and Davidson as an artist—of many styles. She was an accomplished painter who had shows in both towns, studied in Italy, and even won prizes there.
Her art was broad and multifaceted. It extended to sewing, which included making her own clothes, knitting, needlepoint, cross-stich and more, making items with stunning designs and colors. She always had a basket of projects underway from caps for the grandkids to sweaters for Wags, quilts, and items for charity, with yarns from around the world.
Her largest art projects were her gardens, which were regularly selected for garden tours, and covered in local and regional magazines. She was a long-time member of the Davidson Garden Club, and served in several officer positions.
Equally wonderful was Bettie’s work in the culinary arts. Her love of cooking was inspired by her mother’s Southern style dishes of fried chicken, fancy multi-layered cakes, and homemade preserves—including chow-chow, and fruit jams from her gardens’ berry patches. An invitation to dinner at the Casey’s was an occasion of delight for many in Davidson over the years.
While passing an auction of restaurant equipment outside a shuttered Davidson diner in the early 1980s, she made a bid on the lot—and won! She had made many trips to France with her husband Hugh, and was fascinated with the food. She took courses, and her bible became Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” With this equipment, she felt it only natural to venture into opening a gourmet French restaurant, “La Toque Blanche,” (The Chef’s Cap) in what was previously the old town jail. Many of her clientele drove from Charlotte, for some of the best meals in the region. She spent all week preparing, then served one long, multicourse meal, with wine pairings assistance from Hugh, on Saturday night. It was a phenomenon for Charlotte and Mecklenburg, decades ahead of its time.
Bettie had a strong affinity for music—WDAV played morning to night in her home. She taught herself to play Renaissance recorder and performed for many years with a Davidson group that dressed in period costumes and entertained at events around town. She played clarinet in high school; after moving to Davidson she acquired a hammered dulcimer and harpsichord. Particularly known for the French button accordion she played on Main Street during Christmas in Davidson, she didn’t have to be asked twice to play a zesty rendition of “Happy Birthday” and “Jolly Good Fellow,” on the occasion of a local birthday, much to the joy and delight of friends and neighbors.
Bettie loved to display her thousands of collectible objets d’art in the 1905 home she restored at 310 South Street in Davidson—now known as the Casey-Pratt House. With the gardens outside, and the array of collectibles from Asia and Europe—along with her personal work, it was a stunningly original work of art on its own.
Bettie’s love of international travel equaled her love of the arts.
Her first big trip was in 1948, just after high school, when her older sister, married to a military officer, invited her to Japan to work as a civilian secretary for a US general. She excelled in shorthand and other office skills, so she took a train from Charlotte to Seattle, then a ship to Tokyo, where she lived for more than a year. The return trip from the West Coast was by Greyhound bus, with several stops at sites like The Grand Canyon. She chaperoned her younger sister, Barbara, on the trip, who attended high school in Japan.
Hoping to find more adventurous travel with international service jobs, the story goes that she met husband Hugh when both were wearing towels in a physical exam line at Walter Reed in Washington, D.C. Hugh, himself a merchant mariner and adventurer from Chicago, was smitten by this spunky Southern belle, and married her as soon as he could.
They put their planned travels on hold and moved to freezing Chicago (very un-Southern) so Hugh could attend law school and have a career that would make him a good provider for a family. Their first two children were born in Chicago, but after obtaining his JD, they high-tailed it to warm Charlotte, and so began Hugh’s career as a distinguished trial lawyer, known for serving the underdog. Most of their time there was in the Myers Park neighborhood.
Bettie was very busy in those years raising five children, and developing her painting skills. They acquired an old farm in Waxhaw, where the kids would be free to run though the pastures and streams on week-ends, riding horses and fishing, without worry. Later, they acquired another farm in Weddington; Bettie ardently decorated the house and cultivated gardens, and learned beekeeping at CPCC.
As the children grew into teenagers, then off to college, Bettie and Hugh scoured Europe—especially France, with Eurail passes, on many trips starting in the mid-1960s.
In the 1980s, Hugh was awarded Fulbright Scholar fellowships in France and China, where he and Bettie spent a year each. These times were filled with more travel, including a couple of weeks in the USSR, and a visit to Tibet.
Bettie and Hugh’s 30+ years in Davidson led them to become compelling members of the community. Bettie was pleased to develop her artistic skills, making many friends.
She was a member of Davidson College Presbyterian Church, and a staunch liberal member of the Democratic party, serving many times on the precinct committee. Bettie entered most doggie fashion shows at Christmas in Davidson, and frequently won awards for matching outfits she made for her, and Wags, who calmly accompanied her everywhere, even church.
Hugh Casey passed away at age 80, a few years after their 50th wedding anniversary. Their house on South Street became too much for Bettie to manage, so she moved to a cottage at The Pines, with Wags. She filled it with many of the art works and memorabilia she had gathered in her nearly 70 years of travel and creativity, and participated as an enjoyable and unique member of The Pines Community.
Bettie was still active with many projects in recent days, with abiding interests in needle work, music, and a renewed passion—astronomy (she was so looking forward the solar eclipse in August). She would welcome visitors who wanted to see her various collections, and listen to the stories of her fascinating adventures.
Bettie is survived by son Hugh Richardson (Rick) Casey of Boulder, CO, daughter Catheryn Ann Maier
(husband Bob) of Davidson, NC, son Kevin Grattan Casey (wife Judy) of Orlando, FL, daughter, Madeleine Ann Sheeran (husband Gordon) of Statesville, NC. In addition to her sister, Barbara, and her brother, Robert, she was preceded in death by her youngest son, Patrick Williams Casey, who passed in August 2016. Surviving sisters are Susan Whisnant of New Haven, CT, and Jane Archer of Greenville, SC. Bettie stayed close to numerous other family members throughout her life, including nieces, Susan (Suzy) Whisnant and Lynn Reiser, and nephew John Whisnant (wife Branka). Bettie has four grandsons, Evan Maier, Philip Maier, Zach and Nick Sheeran, Sean Casey and a granddaughter, Ashley Haverly. Also surviving is her beloved dog, Wags, a constant companion for the past 15 years.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests a memorial donation to The Nature Conservancy, your local public (PBS) television station or public radio station.
A memorial service will be held at Davidson College Presbyterian Church, 100 N Main St, Davidson, NC 28036, on Friday, July 28, 2017 at 2:00 PM with a visitation to follow in the congregation house.