Gulfport - Just nine days before her 90th birthday, on November 26, 2017, Betty Ann Dover Brown of Gulfport danced away from this world to a new venue in Heaven.
Betty made her debut on December 5, 1927, in Irving, Kentucky, and later moved with her family to Montgomery, Alabama, where she spent countless hours in the spotlight, dancing and acting. Following graduation from Sidney Lanier High School in 1945, she attended the Feagin School of Drama and the Arts in New York City. In New York, she was disappointed not to be accepted into the world-famous Rockettes—not because she wasn't a good enough dancer but because she was not tall enough. Yet she persevered, and after finishing at the Feagin School, she participated in off-Broadway and USO productions, summer stock, movies, radio, and even television during its infancy.
Her dream of continuing a career in theater was waylaid on Christmas Eve of 1949 when she was home for the holidays and met the love of her life, Hollis Brown, on a blind date. Never once regretting this unexpected turn of events, Betty married Hollis on March 3, 1951, and moved with him to Gulfport where he was an electrical engineer for Mississippi Power Company. In Gulfport, Betty served as a fashion commentator for Northrup's Department Store, was a member of the Junior Women's Club, organized and became the first president of the Jaycettes, and was active in Gulfport Little Theater.
Betty's participation in church and community affairs did not abate when Hollis's job moved their family to Laurel for a brief time and then to Hattiesburg where they lived for over two decades. During that time Betty was involved in several literary clubs and other civic organizations, but also undertook a number of responsibilities within Main Street United Methodist Church where she was a women's circle member, Sunday school teacher, a study leader, youth counselor, and summer youth director. Besides these commitments, Betty contributed much time and talent to the many extra-curricular endeavors of her three daughters, including the Girls Scouts of America, church and school choirs, cheerleading, and band, to name only a few. In fact, whenever chaperones were needed for a church or school excursion, Mr. and Mrs. Brown, the "Cool Parents," were always the unanimous choice. Often, after Hattiesburg High home football games, Betty welcomed a houseful of teens with made-from-scratch hot cocoa and stove-popped popcorn. And when she caught her church youth group toilet papering her front lawn one night, instead of calling the police or their parents, she invited them in for refreshments.
During her years in Hattiesburg, Mrs. Brown became an avid golfer and member of the Hattiesburg Country Club Ladies Golf Association, and while her two youngest daughters were attending Auburn University, Betty worked full-time at Deposit Guaranty National Bank in merchant services and event planning (one of her fortes). Upon returning to Gulfport with Hollis in the early 1980's, she continued working in a similar capacity at Hancock Bank. Outside of work and after her retirement, Betty was a member of the Gulfport Yacht Club, the Auburn University Alumni Association, the Mississippi Gulf Coast Auburn Club, and First United Methodist Church.
Because Mrs. Brown had the same first name and last initial as her favorite cartoon icon, she was widely known as "Betty Boop" or "Boopsie," and had an impressive collection of Betty Boop memorabilia, many on display in the shadow box outside her suite at Seashore Highlands assisted living facility. Because she served for 18 years on the board of Methodist Senior Services, both state-wide and locally, her residence there was special to her, and she loved boasting that she helped "design" the facility in which she lived her last two years.
An extraordinary wife, mother, disciplinarian, grandmother, the second mother to many, and hostess, Betty made sure her home was orderly but also a fun and welcoming haven, always full of laughter and love, spurring many family jokes and phrases that are repeated to this day. In addition to her boundless, unconditional love for her daughters and four grandchildren who called her "Mama Honey," she evinced generosity to and compassion for others, offering her home to three people, two of whom she barely knew after Hurricane Katrina destroyed their own homes. During the following months, all four took turns preparing and eating supper together each night, holding hands and praying a blessing that ended with "God bless the cooks!"
Preceding Mrs. Brown in death were her parents, W. H. and Georgia Dover, her brother W. T. Dover, and her beloved husband Hollis R. Brown. Left behind on this mortal stage are her daughter Kevan Brown of Ocean Springs and her husband Russ, who was so loving, attentive, and helpful to Betty in her final years; daughter Barby Brown of Gulfport; daughter Jill Grove of Pensacola, FL; granddaughter Laurel Riley (Daniel) of Nashville; granddaughter Arden Jenner of Buena Park, CA; grandson Andrew Grove of Pensacola; and grandson Jordan Jenner of Brooklyn, NY.
A memorial service was held for Betty Brown on Thursday, November 30, at Riemann Family Funeral Home, 11280 Three Rivers Road in Gulfport, with visitation from 1-2 p.m. and a service of remembrance and celebration at 2 p.m., it was followed by a graveside service at Floral Hills Memorial Gardens on Carl Legett Road in Gulfport.
In lieu of flowers, donations to any of the following will be appreciated:
- Seashore Highlands
12170 Highland Way
Gulfport MS 39503
- First United Methodist Church
2301 15th St
Gulfport MS 39501
- Methodist Senior Services
P. O. Box 1567
Tupelo MS 38802
Published in the Hattiesburg American from Nov. 29 to Dec. 1, 2017.