Remembered by many for her big, blond hair, orange vest and fierce protectiveness of the children she ushered across Walton Way, longtime crossing guard Betty E. Wilson died Friday. She was 85.
Wilson retired from being a crossing guard just five years ago, after more than 50 years of service. More than 43 of those were outside Episcopal Day School, where she worked through any weather to make sure students safely crossed one of Augusta’s busiest streets.
“She was incredibly beloved for her steadfast and dedicated commitment to keeping kids safe,” said school Headmaster Ned R. Murray. “She took it very seriously. She knew they couldn’t learn if they didn’t get to school safely.”
Wilson’s children said she became a crossing guard because she loved kids. Except for a brief time after a heart attack, she almost never missed a day. Wielding a stop sign and a whistle, Wilson was the authority in her corner of Augusta.
Her husband, Tommy Wilson Jr., was an Augusta firefighter, as his father had been. And even though he spent his life fighting flames, Wilson’s children remember worrying about her safety.
“Oh, yeah, we worried,” said her oldest son, also named Tommy Wilson. “She had several close calls.”
As traffic whizzed by on Walton Way, it was not uncommon to see Wilson in the middle of the street blowing her whistle and waving for cars to slow down.
“That is not an easy job,” Murray said, noting that after she retired he took over on occasion. “It is an incredibly difficult and challenging job, particularly on Walton Way.”
Murray said the entire staff of the school adored her for her courage and dedication to the school. On Wednesday, the faculty will be taking a school bus to her viewing at McNeill Funeral Home.
When Wilson retired at the age of 80 in 2007, Mayor Deke Copenhaver named May 17 “Betty Wilson Day.”
“That was fantastic,” said her daughter Roxie Pebbles. “It showed how much she loved her job and how much they loved her back.”
Head crossing guard Susan Smith said she would be greatly missed by the guards.
“She was an institution,” she said.
Wilson is survived by her four children, nine grandchildren and six great grandchildren.
Religion was also very important to Wilson. After retiring the whistle, she spent a lot of time watching religious shows on TV. But mostly, she wished she was out on the beat.
“She didn’t want to retire,” said her son Tracy Wilson. “It was a very sad day for her. She would have stayed forever if they would have let her.”