Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Bonnie Brown: Q&A with Betty Barron

The latest interview in the Ole Miss Retirees features Betty Barron. The organization’s mission is to enable all of the university’s faculty and staff retirees to maintain and promote a close association with the university. It is the goal of the Ole Miss Faculty/Staff Retirees Association to maintain communication by providing opportunities to attend and participate in events and presentations.

Betty Barron is one of the kindest, gentle, and most caring women you will ever encounter.  She has always gone out of her way to help everyone who needed her assistance.  She was perfect in Human Resources.  She readily admits that she loves helping people.  Betty is just a lovely lady in every sense of the word.  She also has a great story to share.  

Brown:  Are you an Oxford native?  What was it like growing up in your hometown?

Barron:  No, I am not an Oxford native.  I grew up in McComb, which is a small town in south Mississippi that was built around the railroad.  It was a quiet little town where we could walk to school and play outside until dark.  We knew all the local merchants by name, had ice cream sundaes at the corner drugstore soda fountain, left our doors unlocked and spent Saturday afternoons on Main Street or seeing the double-feature movie.  After the peanuts were picked every year, my family would host a church-wide fellowship in our backyard where everyone enjoyed boiled peanuts out of a huge black iron pot.

Brown:  Please talk about your parents and siblings.  

Barron:  My parents, Rayford & Cora Kirkland, met and married young, worked hard, raised three children and were together for 60 years.

My Mother was one of nine children.  She grew up helping work a farm (there were more girls than boys in the family), was the first to learn sign language in order to be able to communicate with her deaf sister, played tennis in high school, and mastered the art of sewing.  She even made my wedding dress. My Mother was a saint!

Dad had four siblings.  He was born at home and had no formal education.  His family moved “to town” when he was a young teenager.  Dad served in the Navy during WWII.  He loved to garden and share his produce with his church family.  He was also an artist in that he whittled with a pocketknife.  Mother developed Alzheimer’s Disease and died when she was 78.  Dad was her caregiver for over ten years.  He lived to be 97 years old.

Betty with her father, 2018                                         Photo provided

I am the “middle child” between two brothers!  However, they are two of the best brothers in all the world.  They both had very successful careers and are now enjoying retirement.  My older brother Thomas Kirkland is a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi.  He served in the US Army during the Vietnam War, was a successful CPA, enjoys golf, woodworking, and gardening. He lives in Knoxville with his wife Chris, close to his daughter and grandchildren.

My younger brother David Kirkland is a graduate of Louisiana State University where he was a member of the Air Force ROTC Program.  He went on to become a pilot and achieved the rank of Lt. Colonel before retirement.  He lives in San Antonio, TX with his wife Linda, and enjoys working with the Gideon organization, golf, and gardening.

Brown:  What qualities did you admire about your parents?

Barron:  Their devotion to each other, that they were hard-working and honest.  They were always willing to share what they had.  

Brown: When someone asked you when you were young what you wanted to be when you grow up, what did you say?

Barron:   When I was young and asked what I wanted to be when I grew up was:  a mother!

Brown:  Have you ever had a nickname? What is it?

Barron:  Not really, but my Mother sometimes called me “Boots”.

Brown:  Where did you go to school? 

Barron:  I graduated from McComb High School; I did not attend college.

Brown:  What subjects were hardest for you in school?

Barron:  Shorthand and economics.

Brown:  Who was your favorite teacher in school and why was he/she your favorite?

Barron:  Mrs. Stephens, my high school typing teacher.  She was firm, fun, and fair.

Brown:  What were your favorite pastimes when you were young?

Barron:  Paper dolls, jacks, and learning to embroider.  

Brown:  What is your favorite childhood memory?

Barron:  One time I was on a runaway horse!  But my fondest memory is when my best friend lived next door to the drive-in theater.   When I would spend the night with her we would spread a blanket in her yard and one of us (we took turns) would sneak under the fence and turn on several speakers on the back row!  Then not only could we watch the movie, we could hear it!!!

This was fun and scary all at the same time . . .  we almost got caught a few times!  We were only 11 or 12 years old.  Then my friend and her family moved. 

Brown:  Tell us how/when your Ole Miss “story” began?   Who hired you? 

Barron:  I first went to work at Ole Miss in 1983 in the Army ROTC Department.  I was hired by Lt. Col. Donald Taylor and stayed until my husband’s job took us to Tennessee in 1991.  I re-entered the Ole Miss workforce upon our return to Oxford in 2004 in the Department of Human Resources and was hired by Clay Jones and Regina Johnson.  

Brown:  How long did you work at Ole Miss?

Barron:  I worked at Ole Miss for a total of 18 years.

Brown:  What position(s) did you hold?  What were your job responsibilities?  

Barron:  In Army ROTC my position was Senior Secretary.  I was the only University employee in that department, everyone else was either military or a government employee.  I kept the Colonel’s calendar, screened his calls, filed travel reimbursements for him and the entire staff, and typed the tests.  There were no computers, so this was on a typewriter using carbon paper.  I handled Drop/Add of courses for students each semester, planned promotion ceremonies, and was the liaison between the University and the military.  Over my eight years in the department, I worked for four different commanders and numerous military staff.  I learned a lot and also had a lot of fun in this position because on occasion I could attend weekly labs where I got to ride in a helicopter and repel off the training tower.

In Human Resources (HR) I started my time at the front desk, where I answered the phone, greeted everyone entering the department, filed, and handled all the forms for University employees taking classes for credit.  After a couple of years, the opportunity became available for me to move up into the employee benefits section of the HR Department.  Here is where I found the “something” that I truly loved.  Most people think insurance is boring and hard to understand.  However, I love helping people and it seems more people need and want help with insurance!  Twice a week we held help sessions for new employees so they could learn about all the benefits afforded to them and to sign-up for those benefits.  I made those presentations, then helped them complete the forms correctly.  I met regularly with insurance representatives, making sure I was “up to speed” on any changes in benefits.  I loved this job!

Brown:  It seems that everyone has “that” day at work that is memorable.  What day was that for you and why?

Barron:  There are two memorable days for me, not because they happened at work, but I was at work when I got the news.  Therefore, they are both imbedded in my mind and when I think of them I also remember exactly where I was at work when I heard.  We were living in Louisville, MS and I was secretary to the Director of Employee Relations at Spartus Corporation.  It was mid to late afternoon, the room was busy, as usual with the work of about ten different female employees doing their normal everyday job responsibilities when we received the news that Elvis had died!  The room went silent.  The second memorable day was, of course, the attack on America on 9/11.

Brown:  What advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

Barron:  Take time to discover who you are!

Brown:  Tell us how you and your husband met.   What is the secret to your many years of marriage?  

Barron: My husband and I did not actually “meet” until he picked me up for our first date!  We caught each other’s “eye” when we were at a local “swim hole”.   I think that our commitment, determination, and love for God and each other are the reasons for our long, successful marriage.   

Betty and Don on their wedding day

Betty and Don Barron at The Inn at Ole Miss balcony 
on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary, 2012

Brown: We’d like to hear about your children and grandchildren.

Barron:  There’s probably not enough space to talk about my children and grandchildren.   Ha! Ha!  

We are abundantly blessed with three fine children: Kim, Kay & Kyle. 

Betty’s children:  Kay, Kyle, and Kim Barron 

Kim is retired from Lafayette County School, holds a part-time position as secretary at New Prospect Baptist Church, is married to Joe Maples, and adores her grandchildren!

Kim and Joe Maples
Great-grandchildren   Willow, Emma Jo, and Tanner

Kay is a very talented and popular local massage therapist, loves anything outdoors, and stays busy enjoying her children & grandchildren.

Kay with her grandchildren (Betty’s great-grands) Levi, Darcy Kate, Dawson, Sawyer
Daughter Kay with Betty

Kyle is a civil engineer and lives in Knoxville where he enjoys hiking, walking their dog and spending time with his family.  He is married to Jill Malone Barron.

Son Kyle with wife Jill (holding family dog Tess), Grace, and Hannah

These three children blessed us with eight grandchildren and the grandchildren have blessed us with seven (so far) great-grandchildren!

Brown:  If you had a warning label, what would yours say?

Barron:  Be kind!

Brown:  If you could make one rule that everyone had to follow, what rule would that be?

Barron:  To act justly and to have mercy and to walk humbly with your god.  Micah 6:8 

Brown:  What was your best birthday?

Barron:  Probably my 60th because we had just moved back to Oxford, and I was able to be surrounded by all my family.   

Brown:  If you could follow someone around for a day, who would you follow around and why?

Barron:  If I could follow someone around for a day, it would be the Apostle Paul to witness firsthand that kind of love, devotion, and dependence on the Lord. 

Brown:  Do you have hobbies?

Barron:  Yes, knitting (which I learned after I retired), reading, sewing, nutrition and anything to do with natural health.

Brown:  What would be your ideal way to spend the weekend?

Barron:  Sitting on the beach surrounded by my family playing in the sand and surf while watching the waves roll in because that always reminds me of the Bible verse in Job where God says: “This far you may come and no farther.”  

Brown:  What song/artist makes you unconditionally happy?

Barron: “Who am I” by Casting Crown.  

Brown:  What was the best compliment you’ve ever received?

Barron:  You have done a good job of raising fine children.  

Brown:  Tell us something about yourself that people might not know.

Barron:  I love starting a new project, but I am not the best at finishing.  

Brown:  What 3 words would your friends use to describe you?

Barron:  Loyal, honest, faithful 

Brown:  What is your favorite way to relax?

Barron:  I love to curl up on the couch with a good movie or book, and a bowl of popcorn.  

Brown:  What small things make you happy?

Barron:  Sunshine, birds singing, unexpected drop-in visits by a family member or friend.

Brown:  What makes you angry?

Barron:  Movies that are stupid!

Brown:  What was the title of the first movie you watched in a movie theater?

Barron:  I have no idea, but I would guess Roy Rogers or the Lone Ranger.  

Brown:  To quote Katherine Meadowcroft, Cultural activist, and writer, “What one leaves behind is the quality of one’s life, the summation of the choices and actions one makes in this life, our spiritual and moral values.”  What is your legacy?

Barron:  The importance of faith in Jesus Christ and my precious family and the lives they live based on Christian principles.


Bonnie Brown is a retired staff member of the University of Mississippi. She most recently served as Mentoring Coordinator for the Ole Miss Women’s Council for Philanthropy. For questions or comments, email her at bbrown@olemiss.edu.

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