South Charlotte

Poet's well-versed in humor

Betty Thomas, 85, has written poetry since childhood and admits to a “lifelong fascination with words.”

Her paper trail offers insight into her sense of humor and impatience with pomp and self-importance. One example:

“Old Adage/New Twist”

A bird in the hand

Is worth two in the bush

Or so I've heard it said.

But …

Two birds in the bush

Are better by far

Than one flying overhead!”

Delicate and soft spoken, she sits in the parlor at Legacy Heights, remembering the events of her life. Her daughter Karen cues her on dates and personal history.

Born in Philadelphia, Betty was raised in New York. She went to Ohio Wesleyan College, where she majored in English and Bible. As a young student, she had planned to be a foreign missionary. Then, walking down the street near her house, she realized, “I don't have to be a missionary overseas. I can be one right here.” After graduation in 1949, she worked in public relations for Ohio Wesleyan.

Her work career took her through several jobs: part-time secretary for New Brunswick Presbyterian Church in Somerset, N.J.; administrative assistant to National Council of Churches. She worked with chaplains who impressed her with their commitment.

She married Robert James Thomas in 1955 at Riverside Church in New York. He worked for Honeywell, traveling. Their long relationship has been marked, she says, by the fact that “you have to be best friends.” Daughter Karen, born in Yonkers, N.Y., in 1956, remembers that when her father traveled they would leave notes for each other.

When Robert retired in Rochester, N.Y., they became snowbirds, spending half their time in Myrtle Beach. Next step was a permanent move to Myrtle Beach, until health issues required them to move to Charlotte near their daughter.

Betty Thomas says her father wrote poems, engendering her own tendency. At age 10, she wrote her first poem about her bunny rabbit. Knowing her talent for rhyme and expression, friends often asked her to write poems for special occasions.

She submitted some for publication. A friend told her that if she had a more unusual name, editors would be more likely to take a second look. So she used the pseudonym “Mary Beth Soames.”

In 1969, according to Betty, one of her self-described “daffynitions” was published in the Wall Street Journal:

“A committee is a group of people

Dedicated to a single cause:

Getting off the committee.”

Her poems display a wry sense of humor. In one entitled “Eye Strain”, she says:

“I'm tired of reading

My death will be caused

By nearly everything

I'm eating …

I know just what

To give up first …

I'm going to give up


In “Ode to Brevity,” she writes:

“I thought the speech

Was rather good;

The speaker's smile

Was winning …

But he should have put

The speech's end

Much nearer

Its beginning!”

Betty Thomas lives with her husband, Bob, at Legacy Heights Senior Living Community in south Charlotte's Ballantyne community.