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Miss Betty featured in Charlotte Observer

05/18/11 -  

Miss Betty towering figure at Queens for 50 years

By DAVID PERLMUTT
The Charlotte Observer

Saturday, May. 14, 2011

CHARLOTTE, N.C. At 4-feet-6, if that, she's a speck of a woman, but Betty Davis has been a towering figure at Queens University of Charlotte since the day she quit high school and walked onto campus to work nearly 50 years ago.

In that time, she's mopped floors, helped sick students, greeted them at breakfast in the dining hall and advised everyone from homesick freshmen to former Queens President Billy Wireman on whatever was on her mind.

She's been the nurturer, the safe confidante - the open arms. She's also been the constant on campus for returning graduates, serving the school for the last third of its history.

Recently, Miss Betty didn't merely watch her "Queens children" graduate, she was among them - in cap and gown - as President Pamela Davies bestowed on her an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.

"It is impossible to imagine going to the front door of the dining hall and not seeing Miss Betty," Davies said. "Her warm and welcoming smile is a pleasant reminder that while the walls may change and buildings may expand, Queens is still Queens. And Miss Betty is on the job."

Miss Betty was raised on Charlotte's westside, and, really, on the Queens campus. She was 17, a junior at West Charlotte High, when she decided she needed to find a job to help her family.

Queens hired her on the spot when she came to campus to have lunch with a friend. The next day, Aug. 13, 1962, she showed up to work, first as a housekeeper in dorms.

She's never left.

"It was my first job," Davis said this week. "It'll be my last job. I've loved every minute."

For her first 25 years, Queens admitted only women. Miss Betty was protective of all of them, especially when those "rascals" from Davidson College came calling.

"In those days, them boys weren't allowed to go into the dorms," she said. "When I saw one sneaking around, I'd call the campus police ... tell them they need to come investigate.

"No one got by me."

She had been on the job 16 years when Wireman arrived in 1978, with Queens on the brink of folding. Miss Betty appointed herself his personal adviser and lead helper.

One day he came to her with an outlandish question: "Gal (what he called her), how would you feel if boys came to school here?"

She hated the idea. Each morning at breakfast, Wireman asked the same question. Each morning it was always no.

He explained the school's survival depended on admitting men. So, finally, after weeks of holding ground, Miss Betty traipsed up to Wireman's office and announced:

"OK. We can try it for a month."

Queens went co-educational in 1987. Miss Betty was among the first to greet the incoming men, telling school officials: "You better get some bigger beds for them boys."

Now they're all her children.

"Miss Betty has been the safe base any student can go to and talk to without fear of being judged," said Jean Burton, former Queens dean of students and alumni affairs director.

About the time Wireman arrived, Miss Betty began looking after her great-nephew, Maurice Sadler.

She had been married to a truck driver, Bennie Ray Davis, for six years. They had no children and he was always gone. So when Maurice's parents started having problems, Miss Betty took him in, first on weekends, then for a week or two at a time.

"When I was 4, they brought me to stay one weekend, and I never left," Maurice said. "Biologically, Mama Betty's my great-aunt, but she raised me as her son."

Miss Betty pushed Maurice in school, preaching to him to get the education she didn't.

She would take him to work, and into the dorms, always shouting "man on the hall." "I was 7, so I was proud she called me a man," he said.

After Myers Park High, he had a choice of colleges. He chose Queens.

Maurice, now 37, was elected Queens' first black student body president and graduated in 1996. Then he earned two master's degrees and is now principal of an elementary school in Troy, Ohio.

"I owe any success to her," he said. "She does things for people that others would not do, would not think to do or would not care to do. She doesn't fake her way through life. She doesn't say one thing and do another."

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