Remembering Betsy Jordan Edgar ~ 1921-2016

BETSY JORDAN EDGAR and Thomas Callison Edgar. The couple did everything together. Theirs is a war love story. Photos courtesy of Martha Irene Edgar Ness
Betsy Jordan Edgar and Thomas Callison Edgar. The couple did everything together. Theirs is a war love story. Photos courtesy of Martha Irene Edgar Ness

By “Marty” Edgar Ness

Betsy Jordan Edgar was born June 25, 1921 in Marlinton, the youngest daughter of the late Robert Samuel Jordan (1876 – 1950) and Flora May Moore (1882 – 1975). She was a descendent of Pocahontas County pioneer Moses Moore.
Betsy always felt she had a happy childhood in the town of Marlinton – surrounded by the beautiful hills – and told many stories about the people and times of that place.
Betsy met Thomas Callison Edgar at a dance at the Allegheny Lodge, and her life changed forever when she married the “love of her life.”
The couple did everything together. It is impossible to tell Betsy’s story and not include Tom. Theirs is a war love story.
Tom graduated from Greenbrier Military School and West Virginia University. His first assignment was as Commanding Officer of a Motorcycle Battalion. The family has a cherished photo of him on his Harley Davidson with the words “Big Betsy” inscribed on the side.
He became the Commanding Officer of 705 Tank Destroyer Battalion, and fought at Normandy, throughout the European Theatre, Bastogne Belgaum and The Battle of the Bulge, where he was wounded, losing his legs.
Betsy would tell the story of those days, “I would dream at night of Tom, and the awful fighting and circumstances, and then I’d receive a letter describing the same things I had dreamed. I felt we were so close. I was going through the war with him.”
Betsy held different positions during World War II as she traveled about the country with her military husband, most notable was as Executive Assistant to the director of Trans World Airlines.
Betsy was in Washington as she anxiously waited for her wounded husband to be brought home from the war. Wounded soldiers were generally flown home quickly. Having this position at the airlines did not help her, as Tom was sent to a hospital in England for many weeks, and later sent home by “slow boat.” When he returned, his four long years of recuperation began at Walter Reed Hospital, with Betsy constantly by his side. Due to physical complications he could never ambulate on artificial limbs, and instead spent the rest of his life confined to a wheelchair. Betsy worked very hard all of her life putting her great energy and creativity to the tasks of serving others, assuring the rights of the handicapped and preserving history.
They farmed the family home place for many years. Their story of successfully and graciously handling a double amputation and ambulating from a wheelchair became well-known. Many people called on them to ask for advice regarding their disabilities from life events or injuries.
During those years it became evident that Tom and Betsy’s lives were meant to help others. Betsy became very active in the local and state Easter Seals program, and was on the State Board of Directors. She was impressed that the largest percentage of donated money stayed in local areas to help neighbors and friends.
When Tom was elected to the Legislature to represent West Virginia, the two worked tirelessly to make life better for handicapped individuals. Through the legislature experience and the people they met, they were in a position to be an influence for positive change. They helped create better attitudes through their example and worked tirelessly on behalf of the handicapped. Sadly, during the 13 years that Tom was a representative, and the year Betsy finished his term after his death, there was no accessible entrance to the West Virginia State Capitol. Despite this barrier, they never missed a roll call. They were always on time, and yet they would have to drive into the basement of the capitol and use the service ramp where the supplies were taken in and the garbage taken out. The ramp was too steep for Tom to navigate independently. Betsy would push him up the ramp where he would wait, while she took the car out into the snow and elements, then trudging back to get him. They would take the service elevator up to the House of the Capitol. Few knew of their struggles to gain access to the Capitol and their every day challenges. They helped many people gain confidence and to dare to believe that they, too, could have a “normal life.”
Tom and Betsy were courageous, confident, full of humor, good and happy people, and everyone who met them enjoyed their friendship and encouragement. They were involved and instrumental in the development of the Federal Laws that govern today: 1974 PL 94-142 education for disabled, Act, 1973, 504 of the Rehabilitation Act – first legislation protecting civil rights of the handicapped, and were instrumental in helping secure federal and state funds to create the Rehabilitation Facility and Institute, and numerous other things.
Even into Betsy’s senior years she would see accessibility problems in a public building, and before you knew it she was calling lots of influential people to get those things corrected.
The couple worked tirelessly to ensure the Cass Scenic Railroad was created, funded and developed, and had many other notable legislative accomplishments.
On March 9, 1972, her beloved Tom passed away, and Betsy was appointed by the Governor to complete his term.
In the 1950s and 60s, Betsy was encouraged by her friend and mentor, Pearl S. Buck, to write about her life events and family history. She dedicated many hours to writing words that she hoped would bless others. She was always humble about these works. Her office was in the old parlor at the farmhome – known as “Mount Airy” or “Brick House.” From that room she had a view down over the lovely hills and onto the family farm. There she penned four literary works that are cherished by many. These works are:
“The McNeel Family Record: Descendants of Pioneer John McNeel and Martha Davis of Pocahontas County, West Virginia, 1765-1967, McClain Print. Co., 1967.
This document is a published work that is a genealogical accounting of her husband Tom’s family. This book was created through the generosity of many family members (e.g. Dr. John McNeel) and friends. They provided information and support, through many hours of work at cemeteries, courthouses, and interviewing the Historical Societies and knowledgeable family members. Betsy was an avid genealogist all of her life, and documented facts and information regarding all branches of her family. Although not published, many of her works in this area are worthy of printing.
“Pocahontas County Cooking, Yesterday and Today” 1973.
This is a lovely document preserving many special recipes that were passed down through the generations, and were used during the time of her writing. It was especially popular with tourists who came to Pocahontas County and wanted to take a memento of the area home with them. An amusing statement was made by Betsy when someone would call and ask “what about so and so recipe – what did you mean by this?” She would say “Goodness, I wrote that book from the historical aspect. I never really thought about someone actually cooking using those recipes.”
“Our House” 1965
This is a book, deeply felt, about the home that was so special to the Edgar family. The writing was prompted by the pending transition of the home to the honor of another special person, Pearl S. Buck. Ms. Buck discussed the writing of this book with Betsy and encouraged her to write and document the period of time that the home was owned and loved by her family. Ms. Buck’s memory is now accentuated by the fact that the “Stulting House,” the home of her mother’s people, was Pearl’s birthplace. The house is also memorialized as the home of the Edgars by the documentation and work of Betsy. It is an interesting read.
“We Live With the Wheelchair” 1970.
This is the most personal and popular book that Betsy wrote. This is an intimate accounting of the struggles she and Tom faced because of his wounds from the war. They both lived very bravely and normally. To some, it is a great reference of the struggles and victories of a wounded hero, and the life they face at home. Betsy always stood by her husband, no matter what, and their life chronicled in this little book is an inspiration to those who may lack hope.

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