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Remembering Betty Dilday

Betty Doyen Dilday, who graduated Baylor in 1952 along with her husband, Russell H. Dilday, died Aug. 9 at 87. At a memorial service Aug. 14, her three children — Robert H. Dilday (’78), Nancy Dilday Duck (’80), and Ellen Garrett (’81) — each reflected on her life. This is a condensed version of their comments.

Tributes are, by definition, words intended to show gratitude, respect, and admiration for an individual, but words seem inadequate to express the love we have for our mother, who wore many hats. She was the ultimate pastor’s wife, a widely respected teacher, and president of many organizations, but to us she was Mom.

Growing up in a minister’s home, we shared our parents with many others. Although at times they were stretched thin, we never felt second place. Family was first. It was important to Mom to make every house we lived in a beautiful and comfortable home — from parsonages with no air conditioning to spacious  houses in Houston and Atlanta, from the president’s mansion at Southwestern Seminary to, most recently, their apartment in Richardson. They were places where family gathered, milestones were celebrated, and holidays observed, where she and Dad taught us the love of Jesus and the greatness of God.

Mom sang songs of faith to us at bedtime — hymns that are hidden in our hearts forever.  As small children we could sing all the verses of What a Friend We Have in Jesus and, of course, every word of That Good Old Baylor Line.

She loved us fiercely and not a day went by that she didn’t tell us how proud she was of us. Her undying love for Dad showed us the true meaning of a Christian marriage. She was not always gentle and meek; in fact, she was a beast when it came to protecting Dad and our home. Mom claimed the words in 2 Timothy 1:7: “For the spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline.”

Mom taught us about ministry because she knew what it meant to be called into it. Many of you knew her as a pastor’s wife or First Lady of the seminary, but these weren’t her only callings. Her strongest calling was as a child of God, intent on sharing the gospel to those who came into her life. Growing up, we would hear her on the phone inviting people to church; at the grocery store, the beauty shop, even at teachers conferences (and we all had many of those) she would ask the people she encountered where they went to church. She always felt it was her calling to take every opportunity to invite people to a place of community and worship.

When things got tough in ministry and in life, Mom displayed God-given grace and forgiveness. She remembered Psalm 46:1: “God is our refuge and strength, our very present help in times of trouble,” and taped Bible verses around mirrors at home to fortify Dad through many of those times. She was a true encourager.

An attentiveness to others was paired with a keen intellect, which was honed in earning a bachelor’s degree at Baylor and graduate degrees at Georgia State University and B.H. Carroll Theological Institute. She had a razor-sharp memory and placed it in the service of the church by teaching and writing a book — and perhaps most significantly in retaining the details of the lives of every person she met. She had a computer-like recall of those details — the names of children and grandchildren, the churches they served, what year they graduated from Baylor. These represented for her more than just trivia. To truly know people was to know the contours of their lives and to honor those.

Family and friends, the intellectual life and ministry, were all important to Mom — but so was fashion. She always looked her absolute best, and she wanted her children to do the same. She was never shy or cautious about advising us what to wear and how to wear it. We laugh at the memory of comments like, “Robert, did you not have time to iron your shirt?” “Ellen, Nancy? Want a little more lipstick? I have some in my purse!” Mom had dignity and pride and was a woman of excellence, and she held those same high expectations of us.

All in all, she did run the race that God set before her — in style and with lipstick!

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