Artist/Musician John Santa on Doris Betts

Artist/Musician John Santa on Doris Betts

Doris Betts and the Humanities Council

Doris Betts served as a member of the North Carolina Humanities Council from 1972-1975. In 1992, she was awarded the John Tyler Caldwell Award for the Humanities. A complete list of her honors and accomplishments can be found here

A Gathering in Honor and Memory of Doris Betts will be held Sunday, October 7, 2012, at 3:00 PM in Alumni Hall at the Hill Alumni Center, UNC-Chapel Hill.

THINK. SEE. FEEL. with John Santa

THINK: There are few events guaranteed to make you think as much as a funeral, and none more so than the funeral of a close friend. Call it reflection, introspection, whatever you want, the loss of one so special and dear is very hard to fathom, let alone write about. 

Thus it was difficult to walk up the red brick steps of Pittsboro Presbyterian Church on the morning of April 21st because my Teacher, my Mentor, my Loving Tormentor, my great good Friend Doris Betts was gone. Thinking how dismal it would be to log on to my computer knowing I would never again receive an email full of the kind of humor, insight and straight-shooting, cajoling, teasing support and encouragement she specialized in was just about overwhelming.

I poked my head inside the knave of the modest church with its high ceiling and austere wooden pews and felt a wave of guilt wash over me. Surely there must be other people, closer friends, more worthy, more dear to her than I who would need to be with her in that room this sad morning. I asked an usher if there was additional seating elsewhere, and he allowed as how there was, but nodded into the unadorned square room with the dark wooden altar front and center. “You see those rows there up front that are marked off?” he asked. “Those have been reserved for family. Other than that, it’s first come, first served. You go on in and have yourself a seat.” My feelings of guilt somewhat assuaged, I did as I always did in every classroom I ever attended with Doris and retreated to the back row, last seat, and sat down with a sigh.

FEEL: Expecting a huge turnout, I was there early, and I had a long wait ahead of me. Time to think, and yes, time to feel too.

Feelings of warmth and gratitude and loss and grief and an overwhelming sense of disbelief this could actually happen to one so vital, alive, and wise. And as the time for the service got closer, in came more and more Friends Of Doris Betts: many Successful, Famous, Published, Lettered, and Respected, and the feelings of inadequacy returned. Who was I to be in here among this elite? She had given me so much. First as a student: her wisdom, her presence, the chance to watch and learn, to discuss, to experience, to laugh. And later, the honor of her friendship and access to that unending well of wisdom and humor, and what had I done with it?

At that moment the gentleman to my right stirred a little, cleared his throat and looked up, and suddenly I realized I was missing an amazing opportunity. There would never be a time where I would have access to so many of “US” ever again, and I asked for the first time that day what I would ask again and again with always surprising and delightful results:

“So,” I whispered, nudging him with my elbow, “how did you know Doris?”

SEE: And then I began to REALLY see who was at that funeral because, yes, there were the Published but boy on that day, at that time, we were all just Friends Of Doris Betts, just one big magnificent family for whom the gift of this astonishing life had changed us all, and some were there to mourn and some to celebrate, but really we just needed to be there TOGETHER as one, because we all belonged to Doris.


John Santa

John Santa is an award winning producer and musician. He lives in Chapel Hill. He loves music and plays eighteen instruments. At various points in his life, he thought he was a guitar player, a writer, a cellist, a journalist and a producer. Then one day he realized he was really just a storyteller, and his life got much, much easier. Among his proudest achievements are being voted Teacher of The Year four years in a row at Piedmont Community College and founding the Marathon Jam for Charity which has spread to cities around the country and overseas. He finds it delightfully ironic that as a poor, struggling author/musician, he has been able to raise substantial sums of money for various charities, most notably the Fisher House. He believes there is nothing more powerful than a good idea, but it helps a lot if you and your friends are more than a little bit crazy. Mr. Santa has won many awards for his video productions and while he revels in telling many different kinds of stories, he most enjoys the ones that in some way seek to make the world a better place.

Some say the glass is half full. Some say half empty. John just drinks the water.

Photo by Julia P Paschall features (from left to right) John's high school English/Creative Writing teacher Mrs. Gertrude Chewning, John Santa, and Doris Betts.