“TOM AND BETTIE– A LOVE STORY”
Earlier, I shared with you our grief at the death of our brother-in-law on January 4. Later, I happened to tell his and my sister-in-law’s story to a few readers and to a group of neighbors. All agreed it was a remarkable one they believed many women would enjoy, so here it is in my column.
Tom Bailey loved birthday celebrations–especially when he was the one doing the planning. In fact, this is how he first met Bettie, Freemon’s only sibling. In January, 1967, we lived in Houston. Freemon’s parents lived in El Dorado and his sister was at Henderson. Bettie had just broken up with her boyfriend and the situation was worsened by the fact her January 29 birthday was approaching.
I suggested to Mom she and Dad bring her to Houston to celebrate. Why, I’d even set her up with a date. My first ‘candidate’ was busy but he suggested a friend, Tom Bailey. “She’ll like him; he has a GREAT personality!” Now, Girls, you know what that means–fun but as ugly as sin!
I wisely set the date for the Friday night they arrived. This way, we could get rid of a possible “dud” and still salvage Saturday. BIG surprise! When Tom came to the door he was both handsome and charming. He suggested taking us first to the Delmar theater. Afterward, we walked around Westbury Square and had ice cream sundaes. He proved to be an entertaining conversationist! When Bettie admired antique dolls in a store window, he tapped on the “Closed”door and persuaded the owner to let them inside so she could see the rest! At the end of the evening, he asked her out for Saturday night (including us) and said, “I ‘d like to surprise you. Just wear ‘church clothes,’ Okay?” When she came inside she smiled, “He’s NICE!”
Bettie is tall and trim from 12 years of dance and has beautiful red hair and porcelain skin. Saturday night she wore a black crepe sheath dress with black accessories and pearls. When Tom walked in and saw her sitting there, those long legs crossed and encased in black hose (as he later described the moment) he whispered, “WOW! and grabbed his heart.
He took us to the expensive “Ten Fathoms Restaurant” downtown for dinner. Afterward, a cake with candles arrived while the small combo sang “Happy Birthday.” After dessert, the piano player asked dancers to be seated. “This next song is dedicated to Bettie Miles,” and Tom led her onto the deserted floor where they danced to:
MORE than the greatest love the world has known
This is the love I give to you alone…
And the magical night continued…he drove out Main past the museums and around the fountain before turning in to the luxurious Warwick Hotel. Having worked for THE CHRONICLE during college, he knew much of the hotel’s history and took us on a guided tour of the art collected from old castles in Europe, one of which he’d visited with his parents. We ended the tour in the dining room where he insisted we enjoy an elegant pastry and demi-tasse. Next, he asked our permission to take Bettie for “a little stroll” alone. She gave the following account after we returned home.
He took her up to the penthouse floor to point out the entrance to the Presidential Suite and led her through a door leading to the rooftop. The view was breathtaking. He then climbed over a rail to the suite’s private garden where he picked a white rose and presented it to her. Tom was a romantic and an extravagant weaver of dreams. (We didn’t know then his mother owned blocks of downtown Houston!)
That night they exchanged addresses. He kissed her and told her how beautiful their time together had been. Still misty-eyed, she left the following morning.
End of story? Love letters and future visits. They married March 2, 1968 and, for the following 47 years, Bettie’s life remained a fairy-tale. She was his QUEEN. On future birthdays, he showered her with lavish gifts and cruises–always beginning with Belgian waffles served in bed! They were inseparable…working together in their studio where many awards were won for his outstanding photography. They bore four beautiful children who remain in Houston and surround their mother with love. The last thing she heard him say in ICU was “Get my Bettie a recliner so she can rest.” before telling her he loved her. An hour later, he slipped into a coma. During his funeral (over 500 attended) a video collage of their life together played to ‘their’ song… I know I never lived before/ and my heart is very sure/ no one else can love you MORE.
There’ll never be another Tom Bailey. He was bigger than life. No one who ever met him had to be re-introduced. He shared his smiles, his joy, humor, enthusiasm and kindness with everyone he met. He loved to dance, eat decadent desserts, and to shower love on Bettie and his family. Most of all, he loved his God.
He would have turned 73 on April 28. I’d like to imagine him enjoying his most special birthday yet–sitting at the table of the Lord…and beginning with dessert!