Betty Honey


If you wanted to catch Betty you had to call by 7:30 in the morning, before she was out and about with her daily schedule. From exercise class to church activities to flower arranging, she led a busy and full life. Betty, who would have turned 90 next year, died peacefully on April 10.

Elizabeth Ann Honey was born in 1921 in Denver, Colo., the daughter of Henry Morgan Honey and Constance Norton Lord. After her father’s death in 1924, Betty and her brother Bill moved back to the Vineyard with their mother to live in her grandparents’ house on William Street in Vineyard Haven, attending Tisbury schools and graduating from the Tisbury High School. Throughout her life, her house and elegant gardens remained largely the same as when her mother lived there. Yet Betty was always engaged in the present, full of enthusiasm and curiosity.

Betty came from a family of strong women. Her mother, who attended Columbia University, was the first woman to run for selectman in Vineyard Haven. And Betty would tell with pride of how her great-grandmother saved one of the family homes, now the M.V. Savings Bank, during the Great Fire of 1883, by climbing out the attic window and onto the roof and spreading blankets, which she kept wet as the fire devastated the buildings on Main Street. Through her efforts, the fire spread no further west.

Betty’s ability to recall meticulous details about people and historical events was remarkable in its focus on sensory memory, particularly colors and textures and sounds. As she told oral historian Linsey Lee, “My first bathing suit was red, with a yellow wigwam embroidered on it.” She worked several summers at the Double Decker Restaurant located near the site of the old ferry terminal, recalling, “We wore pink printed dresses with white aprons and matching headband caps and saddle shoes, stocking and hairnets. We had to pay for and launder the uniforms ourselves.”

Throughout Betty’s life, Grace Church was a center of activity, providing a supportive and close circle of friends. As a child, she sang in the choir, served in the altar guild, and taught Sunday school. In her teen years, the parish house hosted dances with rented jukeboxes. She loved to dance. “I was a great one for the jitterbug.” In more recent years, Betty served as Chairman of the Flower Guild, directing and creating the flower arrangements on the altar for services. And she took special pride in the beautiful flower arrangements she created for many Vineyard weddings.

Betty recalled vividly the start of World War II: “We would listen to the radio; my mother would always sit in that rocking chair there and crochet and listen to the Philharmonic. And I’m standing there with a dish towel full of silver putting it away in that sideboard — which still holds silver, the same silver — when they had the big announcement about Pearl Harbor. It was a total shock to everybody.”

Betty was swept up in the war effort, training in first aid, serving as an air raid warden, and working with the school superintendent to handle rationing for the Island. She then worked with wounded soldiers and POWS at the dental department at Camp Edwards on the Cape for five years.

She recalled the lighter moments of her work during the war, “Shoes were rationed. We bought paper shoes. They were like sandals, very glamorous. We went to a lot of dances involved with the USO, so we had to be dressed up. We would wear our paper sandals, which had high heels made of cardboard. They didn’t last very long, but they didn’t require any kind of rationing. You could go to a dance and dance all night in them. If they got wet, that was the end of them. You had to be quite clever to manage.”

In recent years, Betty was an engaging participant at gatherings of members of the Vineyard community telling of their wartime experiences. Many of her recollections about the war years are featured in the exhibit “Those Who Serve – Martha’s Vineyard and WWII” at the M.V. Museum.

After the war, Betty moved to Boston and began a nearly 50-year administrative and accounting career with the Surgical Department at Mass General Hospital. During that time, she was active in the Church of the Advent. In retirement, she returned to her home on Martha’s Vineyard where she was a vital and much loved member of the community.

Flowers and gardening were an important part of Betty’s life. A member of the Martha’s Vineyard Garden Club for more than 75 years, she served as the Special Projects Chairman, every year coordinating the Garden Club’s inclusion in the Museum of Fine Arts’ Art in Bloom and directing the arrangements in the club’s biannual Beauty and the Best at the Old Mill in West Tisbury. Says Wiet Bacheller, neighbor and Garden Club member, “She was our eyes and ears for the clubs’ mission to beautify the Vineyard. She kept us on our toes as to what Garden Club projects around the Island needed to be tended to. And she was so thoughtful. When I was teaching and too busy to tend to my gardening, she would sneak across the street and plant crocuses by our path. She wouldn’t tell us. I’d find out in the spring when lovely blossoms would appear.” In her honor, the Garden Club has renamed their annual Presidential Award the Elizabeth A. Honey Award.

Betty was predeceased by her brother Bill Honey, former President of the Martha’s Vineyard National Bank who died in September 2009. She is survived by her nieces Sarah Honey Murphy of West Tisbury, married to Fred Murphy, and Elizabeth Honey MacPherson of Vineyard Haven, whose husband, Robert G. MacPherson Jr., died in 1994, and a nephew, David William Honey, who died on August 7, 2005, and was married to Laura W. Honey of Oak Bluffs. Ms. Honey is also survived by great-nieces and great-nephews, Ross Eben MacPherson of Duxbury; Annie Daggett Sylvia and husband Jake of Edgartown; Grace Lee Murphy of West Tisbury; Megan Lee Honey of Oak Bluffs; and Reid Morgan MacPherson of Vineyard Haven.

Donations in Betty’s memory may be made to Grace Episcopal Church, P.O. Box 1197, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568.