Betsy Robb

On May 28, 2004, NAN lost one of its greatest supporters with the passing of Elizabeth Bryant Robb. Betsy was born in Durham, North Carolina and lived there until the last four years where she lived in a retirement community in Asheville, North Carolina. Betsy was educated at The Baldwin School and Sweet Briar College. Her obituary read: “Blessed with a keen, inquisitive intelligence and a lively imagination, she contributed greatly to the landscape around her, serving as a Durham City Councilwoman from 1989 to 1993 and as a trustee on the boards of Durham Regional Hospital and the Carolina Theatre. She continued her service in Asheville where she served on the Grounds Committee and as the de facto head of the Wednesday morning stitching group. That sounds just like Betsy!

For a number of years she owned Betsy’s Needleworks in Durham where she operated the shop, did custom designing and taught classes for those interested in learning more about needlepoint and related arts. In the mid 1970s she decided to hone her teaching skills and earn credentials for teaching needlework. She drove to Richmond, Virginia to attend the Assembly for Embroiderers sponsored by the National Textile Resource and Research Center of the Valentine Museum. (This pioneer group is known today as the National Academy of Needlearts.) Betsy completed her Level II Certification in Needlepoint in 1976 and became a counselor in the program and continued to serve as Assistant Director of Teacher Certification, Director of Teacher Certification and, finally, Director of Education. Betsy Robb was the third Director of Education for this group.

It was my good and great fortune in those pioneer years to be the one to follow Betsy in all of these positions. Not only was Betsy one of my dearest friends, she was also a respected teacher and mentor. From Betsy I learned how to handle problems and criticism. She taught me to step back and quietly survey the scene and really listen to what was being said without making judgments immediately. Even today, in a tight spot, I still find myself thinking: “What would Betsy do?” She was a pioneer in laying silk threads and designed many pieces to teach her techniques of working with silk. One she called “Boushi.” This project ended up being taught at a national seminar. I received a telephone call from a prospective student in this class asking me the meaning of “Boushi.” I said that I really did not know, but it probably had some oriental meaning as Betsy did many oriental designs. When I related this to Betsy, convulsing with gales of laughter, she said: “Joyce, my little grandson calls this piece ‘Boushi’ because he cannot say butterfly.”

All those who served with Betsy Robb on the NAN Board of Directors grew to love her. Louise Downing McGinty, former Dean of Pitt Technical Institute in Greenville, North Carolina, wrote and administered the first certification programs and became our first Director of Education. Upon learning of Betsy’s death, Louise said: “I was so sad – more because I had not seen her in a while, but also because the world seemed to be more vacant and missing a very beautiful part of my life. You and Betsy and I were very special together and seemed to know what each other were thinking. We did not always agree on some points, but that is what made it so special because we respected each other’s opinion. Betsy was always the logical one. She brought you and me back to reality when we stepped too far out on a cloud – she always made us keep at least one foot on the ground. We worked on plans for our organization and for ourselves that had vision for the future as well as stability for the present. Betsy had such a deep love for everyone and always went the extra mile for anyone who needed her. She gave so much of herself for NAN, especially doing the legal work and getting everything set up correctly. It’s a good time to think back on and I am glad we are honoring her now.”

Jody Adams, the second Director of Education for NAN had this to say about Betsy Robb: “She was quite a magnificent lady. She was the perfect choice for our Teacher’s Certification leadership program and she became part of a team that propelled us to become a more scholastic organization.” Wonderful memories and thoughts came in from those who had served in NAN’s leadership. Gail Sima, the ninth Director of Education, summed it up with: “Betsy’s passing is a great loss to NAN. Not only did she serve as a terrific Director, mentoring so many of us along the way, but she spent years attending to the business aspects of the organization.”

Betsy Robb received many honors during her lifetime, but one of the most meaningful to her was being the first recipient (along with Louise Downing McGinty) of NAN’s prestigious “Lifetime Achievement Award.” This was an outstanding honor in the needlework world. I think, however, that her greatest achievement was the way she taught by example her outstanding code of ethics, devotion to duty, love of God and her fellow man. And, like the “Boushi” of so many years ago, butterflies are meant to be free.

Written by Joyce Lukomski