When I transitioned into a new job in an unfamiliar place, Betty Ratliff Smith sure made me feel like I was part of the family. She was that kind of lady.
I was saddened to learn that Betty passed away earlier this week at the age of 88.
Smith was a handful of people at the Winchester Sun who had been employed by the paper for decades and lived to tell stories of yesterday when I started working there 17 years ago. They were stories about Winchester and Clark County I never knew but grew to appreciate. It wasn’t long before Winchester became a second home to me, a place that’s full of wonderful people and Betty Smith was one of those people.
I remember when I left the Richmond Register to work at the Winchester Sun in 2001, it was a time in my life that was full of adjustments and stress. I had been married for less than a year and I was transitioning from being a sports editor to a design editor. It was also a period of uncertainty following the attacks of 9/11.
I thought I knew it all when it came to journalism, but I was wrong and still had a lot of learning to do when it came to the news end of newspapers. My desk was next to Betty’s and she was always the second or third person into work every day. She loved her coffee and was in charge of the features page and obituaries every day. She also was responsible for calling first responders for an update on the daily EMS calls.
It was hard for Betty to climb the stairs, so she used an elevator that was operated with a rope and no buttons. I always thought she and the person who brought her up and took her down — usually the late Bill Blakeman or the late Fred Baber — were brave people. Later, I became one of those brave souls and learned how to operate that elevator with ease.
Being a newbie wasn’t easy in that newsroom at the time, because most of the fine folks who worked at the paper had been there for years and were already established as veterans. It was kind of like being the rookie on a baseball team, but I needed time to feel everything out and become familiar and comfortable with my surroundings.
Betty always made sure I felt right at home and wouldn’t allow me to get down when times were tough. She would always share an inspiring word, give me a hug when I needed it the most and I was forever grateful Betty Smith was right beside me. If I ever had a question, she always knew the answer because she knew more about Winchester and Clark County than anyone else in the city. It was her hometown and she was proud to be from Winchester.
I don’t remember who was officially in charge of making a pot of coffee every morning, but I usually was one of the people who brought Betty a cup of coffee every day. One morning, someone forgot to make a fresh pot and I volunteered, even though I didn’t know the first thing about making coffee.
That particular morning, Betty asked if I would make it and I said sure, but I told her I had no experience. She said that was okay and I brought her up the cup from the pot I had made. She never said a word, good or bad, but someone downstairs thought it was the worst coffee ever made. I took their word over hers, simply because I knew nothing about brewing coffee.
Betty never did say a word about the coffee I made that day. She just appreciated me for making a pot that morning and didn’t complain. That was the type of lady Betty Smith was. Betty will be missed, but I know she has already received her perfect cup of heavenly coffee she had waited for all of her life.
Keith Taylor is the sports editor for Kentucky Today.