February 21, 1915 – May 11, 2013
Betty Louise Olson Tiller died Saturday morning in Buford, Georgia of congestive heart failure at the age of 98. Betty was born in Hawesville, Kentucky on February 21, 1915, and raised in Oak Park, Illinois as the adored only child of Lucy Irene Vance and Charles Esper Olson. As a child growing up during the Great Depression she learned to be practical and non-judgmental. As homeless “hobos”were roaming through our nation, they could always find a hot meal and smile from a pretty young girl in Oak Park.
One of the family’s favorite stories about Betty Lou has to do with her rabbit, Mr. Bun-bun. Every summer, Betty Lou, her mother, and Mr. Bun-bun would travel by train from Chicago to Kentucky to spend the season with Betty Lou’s grandparents, Bettie and Eugene Vance. Eugene liked to sit on the wide screened back porch on summer evenings and read the Bible. On one such evening, he left his leather-bound Bible within easy reach by his rocking chair. The next morning, his roar woke up the family: “What happened to my Bible!” A perfect circle had been made in the middle of the Bible from cover to cover. “That was Betty Lou’s Mr. Bun-bun.” He chewed right through the leather. Grandpapa Vance immediately ceased roaring. “Oh, if it’s Betty Lou’s rabbit, we’ll say no more.” And, indeed, Betty Lou and her rabbits, cats, and dogs were always welcome at her grandparents’ home.
Betty’s father died when she was 19 and a freshman at Wooster College in Wooster, Ohio. Although her mother lost their heavily mortgaged home and had to find a room to rent in Chicago and a job as a church secretary, she used her husband’s life insurance money to send Betty to the University of Chicago. Betty Lou graduated with a degree in English and Latin.
She returned to Kentucky and was hired in Cloverport as a high school Latin teacher by the superintendent of schools, Garnet Louis Tiller. Betty Lou loved Latin all her days. In her late nineties, she would often delight her family by declining Latin verbs. Her favorite was “to love”: amo, amas, amat, amamus, amatis, amant.
During World War II, Betty Lou served with the Red Cross in Lousiville, Kentucky. Betty Lou roomed at a YMCA where, on her first night, she found a dime under the bed. For the rest of her life, her daughters remember Betty looking under every motel room bed just in case there might be a treasure there.
In 1944, Betty Lou married Garnet Tiller and the couple moved to Souix City, Iowa, where Garnet taught mathematics and science to GIs.
After the war, they moved again to Ann Arbor, Michigan so that Garnet could earn his Master’s Degree from the University of Michigan and then on to Lexington, Kentucky for Garnet’s Ph.D. in math. The couple’s first child, Irene, was born in Lexington. Their second daughter, Ruth, was born three years later in Utica, New York where Garnet taught at SUNY.
In 1954, Betty Lou and her family settled in Atlanta. Betty began a long and happy career as a first grade teacher at Hammond Elementary in Sandy Springs and later at Esther Jackson Elementary. Betty was a devoted and much beloved teacher. Teaching was her passion. She had children’s books and homework papers spread everywhere—including the dining room table. To this day, pieces of her former students’ work still show up in her books or magazines.
There was one thing that became more important than teaching. In February 1983, her first grandchild, David, was born. David was a premature baby, so his mother, Ruth, would call her mother several times a day with questions or concerns: “He isn’t breathing. I can’t see him breathing!!” Betty would walk up the long hall from the first grade classroom to the phone in the office each time with reassurance: “He’s just fine, Ruth! I’ll be by after work.” Betty retired at the end of the year. She was devoted to David and to her other grandchildren, Michael, Lauren and Melissa.
In addition to teaching in Fulton County, Betty was an Elder at Mt. Vernon Presbyterian Church, a Sunday School teacher, and President of Women of the Church. At Christmas one year Betty was so proud to be asked to light the Mt Vernon advent candles with her four beautiful grandchildren.
As she aged, Betty Lou began to live in her childhood memories more and more, giving her family a chance to see the enchanting child she must have been. But the adult Betty would still surface frequently with comments about literature, nature and history. The past five years Betty made her home at Brookside Assisted Living. Betty loved to sit on a bench in the lobby and greet everyone who came by with a smile. Her daughter, Irene, would take her to lunch every week. Their favorite lunch spot was Chili’s. One day Betty casually commented: “I tell all my friends about Chili's. They should give me a free lunch!”
Last Christmas, at age 97, Betty Lou was going out to lunch with her daughters and asked how old they were. When they replied, she said: “Well, how old does that make me?” “You’re 97, Mom.” “No, I’m not 97. 97-year old people are old! They just stay in bed!I couldn’t be 97.” Atlanta had been raining on May 10th but dawned with a beautiful cloudless blue sky on May 11th. The call came through to Betty’s daughter Irene that her mother had passed away. Irene’s husband, Glenn Morris, observed: “God has parted the clouds to welcome Betty home.”
Betty is survived by her two daughters, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
- Visitation Tuesday, May 14, 2013
- Memorial Service Tuesday, May 14, 2013
have a memory or condolence to add?ADD A MEMORY
receive updates when new memories are postedRECEIVE UPDATES
May 14, 2013
May God bless you and your family in this time of sorrow.
May 14, 2013
Irene and Glenn, our thoughts and prayers are with you today. There is no more precious gift than a mother. Cindy and Debbie