Rita Kirkpatrick Bettis, native of Brownwood, Texas, and resident of Houston, Texas, since 1994, died on May 4, 2007, at the age of 100. Born in Brownwood on June 21, 1906, she was the daughter of Rita McClelland and Ernest Earl Kirkpatrick. She was married to Lee Watson Bettis, longtime Brown County rancher and cattleman, for 47 years before his death in 1990.
Mrs. Bettis’ lifetime passion was the art of painting. At the young age of 9, she began training in an adult art class at Daniel Baker College, which was founded by her grandfather, Dr. B.T. McClelland, and which would later become part of the Howard Payne University campus. Throughout her years in Brownwood public schools and after enrolling in Daniel Baker College, Mrs. Bettis faithfully attended the college art classes. When she left school at the end of her sophomore year to marry her first husband, Lloyd Robert French, she was awarded a diploma in art by the college.
Through the years that followed, Mrs. Bettis continued her education in art, studying under most of Brownwood’s local teachers as well as the area’s visiting artists. She is best known for her still life paintings, especially floral, and paintings of Brown County countryside. Of special interest is her series of “Roadside Flowers.” These watercolors, which depict Texas wildflowers in meticulous and loving detail, each took at least two years to complete. The paintings were done in mosaic-like arrangement, each flower painted in sequence as the species appeared in bloom. Towards the end of her painting career, Mrs. Bettis specialized in portraiture and was an active member of The Peoples Painters. She enjoyed numerous exhibits and honors over the years and took great pride in being named Artist of the Year by the Brownwood Art Association in 1985. For an exhibit at Howard Payne University, it was written, “Mrs. Bettis’ work is recognized by professional and amateur artist alike for her clean, clear, vibrant color, sensitive design and flawless draftsmanship.”
In addition to her art, Mrs. Bettis will be remembered for her keen wit which she displayed beyond her 100th birthday, be it through a feisty comment, a wry smile, a raised eyebrow or an unmistakable twinkle in her eye. Rita was also known for her sense of fashion, her love of reading, her exquisite needlepoint, and her enjoyment of travel with her husband, Watson. Her favorite travels took her to Africa and also to Ruidoso, N.M., where she enjoyed watching her son’s horses race.
Mrs. Bettis is survived by her son: L.R. (Bob) French Jr. and wife, Marcia; six grandchildren: Drue Boyles and husband, David; Robin French and wife, Anne; Fuller French and wife, Kara; Bo French; Powie French and wife Alyson; Melanie Massen and husband, Jim; 10 great-grandchildren: Perry Howell, Sharber Howell, Dave Boyles, Amanda McAdams and husband, Mike; Lloyd French, Eve French; Millicent French, Annabelle French and Bobby Fulton French; James Massen; and one great-great-grandson, Courtland McAdams; as well as extended family in Brownwood and in Houston.
The family acknowledges and extends a special thank-you to American Hospice and to Mrs. Bettis’ caregivers whose compassionate care and dedicated attention added immeasurably to the quality of Mrs. Bettis’ last years. Special love and appreciation is expressed to Barbara McGuire, who has been with Mrs. Bettis since 1994, as well as Regina McLemore, and Stephanie Simon, all with whom Mrs. Bettis felt special friendships.
There will be a visitation from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Davis-Morris Funeral Home, 800 Center Ave. in Brownwood, Texas.
Services will be at 10 a.m. Wednesday, May 9, 2007, at Davis-Morris Funeral Home, with burial in Greenleaf Cemetery. After the burial, a reception is planned for family and friends at The Brownwood Art Association’s Art Center, 215 Fisk Ave.
Pallbearers for Mrs. Bettis are her four grandsons, Robin French, Fuller French, Bo French and Powie French; and Mr. Bettis’ nephews, Scott Morelock and Don Morelock.
For those desiring, contributions may be made to The Brownwood Art Association, P.O. Box 782, Brownwood TX 76804 or the charity of your choice.