Betsy Hutchison’s Life of Service

Local veteran and gardener

by Katherine Poole | photography by S.P. Murray

Betsy Hutchison waves goodbye from the balcony of her third floor apartment inside her retirement community in Five Points. Waving back, her granddaughter Anne Wein says that Hutchison always comes out on the balcony to see her visitors off safely—at 99, she’s still living her life in service to others. Hutchison was born Betsy Dana in 1920, the second of six children, and was raised on a farm in Newport, Ohio. She didn’t envision a life on the farm for herself—she wanted to care for people. Hutchison entered nursing school at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Parkersburg, West Virginia, and the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor during her second year of training. She felt the call to serve and volunteered for the Army when she graduated, commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant. 

With a shortage of American nurses at the start of World War II, Hutchison was quickly deployed, and served as a private duty nurse at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia, which was converted into a hospital during the war. Hutchison also cared for Italian prisoners of war at Camp Atterbury in Indiana, and in 1943, she was assigned to the 49th Field Hospital in Torquay, England, a seaside town across the English Channel from Normandy, France. Hutchison was in Torquay on D-Day, and the memory still evokes strong emotions for her. “We stepped out of our tent that morning and looked up. The sky was black with planes. I will never forget the sound of those drones,” she says.

Towards the end of the war, she accepted an invitation for a blind date with a private who was serving in the Northern Theater headquarters in London. The two hit it off, and after a six-month courtship, she married Gray Hutchison. “Actually, I think we were married about three times,” Betsy Hutchison says, recalling the many celebrations that followed once they returned to the United States. The newlyweds spent many of the final months of the war apart. While her husband remained in London, Betsy Hutchison was sent to a hospital in Paris to care for soldiers injured in the Battle of the Bulge.

After the war, the Hutchisons were stationed together in Frankfurt, Germany, where they celebrated their first wedding anniversary. They returned to the U.S. in 1946, and eventually settled in Raleigh’s Hayes Barton neighborhood in 1950. It was at this home, a gathering spot for friends and neighbors, where the couple raised three children and where Betsy Hutchison cultivated a love of gardening. In 1956, she co-founded the Green Thumb Garden Club. Although she has since moved away from her prized rose garden, she is still an active member of the club, which meets once a month for special programs, speakers and community outreach.

She eventually gave up nursing as an occupation, but Betsy Hutchison devoted her life to care for others. “If you are a nurse, you take care of everyone. It is the greatest profession in the world,” she says. Betsy Hutchison has been a member of the Samuel Johnson chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) since 1947 and received the DAR Community Service Award in 2016. A stone bench was dedicated to honor her service in World War II at the Oakwood Cemetery Field of Honor. She is also a longtime member of White Memorial Presbyterian Church, a former Boy Scout Leader and a faithful supporter of many community organizations, including StepUp Ministries and, through her garden club, the Frankie Lemmon School.

A life well lived, Betsy Hutchison still keeps moving. While she downsized from the family home in 2012, more than a decade after her husband passed away, she continues to open her door to visitors—former neighbors, church friends and a family that includes seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. She takes a flex and stretch class three times a week and arranges flowers every other week in her community’s dining room. “I keep busy,” she says, which may account for the fact that she can still fit into her captain’s uniform. Granddaughter Anne Wein concurs: “She has something going on about every day. I tried to schedule lunch recently and she was too busy.” Betsy Hutchison interjects: “Well, that’s the secret.
I believe you have to stay involved. That is what I’ve done.”