Valley News-A Life: Betty Edson; ‘Her focus on her was always on challenging injustices’

RANDOLPH CENTER — Nearly every piece of correspondence Betty Edson wrote — and there were many over the course of her 91 years — she signed the same way: “Courage in the struggle for justice and peace.”

“Her focus was always on challenging injustices, working for justice and working for peace,” said Beverly Anderson, a long-time friend of Edson’s. “She had a deep faith that this is what she was called to do, and her de ella love of people whoever they were. She saw injustices and she wanted to the best of her ability to make a difference.

Edson, who died on Feb. 1, 2022, was a fierce advocate for justice and peace. She took trips to the US-Mexico border to meet with immigrants and push for reform. She visited and corresponded with people who are incarcerated because, to her, everyone deserved chances to grow and change.

“She had recently talked about how, when she was a child, she always felt she had God with her,” said Edson’s daughter, Susan Wiszniak. “More recently we learned that when she said that she always felt God was with her, she defined that as she always felt she had the power of love with her.”

Edson was born on Sept. 22, 1930, in Attleboro, Mass., and came to Vermont to become a student at Middlebury College, where she graduated with honors and a French degree in 1952. Shortly after, she married David Hatch Edson, a Dartmouth College student whom she met on a blind date and who preceded her. After a couple years in New York State, they moved to Norwich when David took a job at his alma mater. For a time, Edson taught kindergarten and was a teacher’s help while raising the couple’s three children. When her oldest children de ella, Wiszniak and Stuart Edson, were out of the house and her youngest child de ella, Lynn Sheldon was in high school, Edson decided to become a licensed pastor with the United Church of Christ.

“I think she just got to the point where she felt like she had time to pursue something on her own,” Wiszniak, of Wethersfield, Conn., said.

Edson served as pastor at the Sharon Congregational Church for 13 years, from the early 1980s through the early 1990s. In her sermons from her, she often brought in issues she was facing in her own life to connect with her parishioners.

“She always pushed people to think beyond where they currently were at, whether it was personally or thinking about the world,” Sheldon, of Mexico, NY, said.

David Edson, the introvert to Edson’s extrovert, was always supportive and good-natured about his wife’s many causes.

“The congregation called him the minister’s wife,” Sheldon said.

“She called him her sounding board,” Wiszniak added. “They would sit down every night before dinner with a glass of wine and talk through all their issues of the day.”

Their strong communication skills had a big effect on their children, as did Edson’s openness when she made wrong decisions.

“She would openly share that, probably so we would know for our kids,” Sheldon said.

During her time in Sharon, Edson became a mentor to Anderson, who was becoming a licensed pastor. They also were both part of the Vermont UCC Department of Mission and worked together with the Vermont Low Income Advocacy Council to host a camp for low-income Vermonters.

“She just encouraged everyone to be the best that they could be,” Edson’s friend Anderson, of Killington, Vt., said, often asking people to look deep within themselves and ask: “What are you really called to do?”

After leaving Sharon, the Edsons moved to Randolph Center and became members of Bethany Church. It was there that Edson met her good friends of her, Irene Schafer and Wendy Ross.

Two years separated Schafer and Edson; their birthdays were two days apart. They were also both only children.

“I think she developed a sense of compassion early in life, with reaching out to others because when you’re an only child, you tend to reach out to others, especially others of the same age and same interest because you don’t have that companionship at home,” Schafer, of Randolph, said.

Edson was also aware of the privileges she had: She was the first in her family to go to college, when many of her high school classmates did not. And she took to heart how people were treated differently because of the color of their skin or their backgrounds.

“She saw early in life the injustices that were done to people of color and people who had less,” Schafer said.

Edson founded Bethany’s Peace and Justice Committee and served as its chair for 17 years. The group read books, hosted speakers, led discussion groups and wrote letters to legislators on a variety of topics.

“We were not there to have lighthearted conversations,” Ross, of the Randolph Center, said. “We were there to advocate for justice and peace.”

Edson visited the US-Mexico border through BorderLinks to see firsthand the challenges immigrants face and learned Spanish to better assist migrant farmworkers in Vermont. Her strong Christian faith was “a major, major force, a lifelong commitment and drive to be — as we see it — doing God’s work in the world,” Ross said. “As a pastor she followed what was in the Bible and she preached what was in the Bible. She preached what she believed Jesus taught.”

While most of his hobbies were serious, Edson always made time for laughter and levity. She loved word puzzles, playing piano and reading. She always had two books going at the same time: One that was nonfiction about a more serious topic and the second a novel. She’d let herself read the novel only once she spent a certain amount of time with the nonfiction book, her daughters de ella said. As they were growing up, Edson would harness her imagination to amuse her children.

“We had little gnomes who lived in the backyard she would tell stories about” named Twinkletoes and Amanda, Wiszniak said.

Her excitement could be infectious. One time, she was telling Schafer and a group of friends about her new toilet de ella, which bubbled when it was flushed.

“We laughed and said ‘Betty, what’s so great?’” Schafer recalled. So Edson invited them over to show them. “We gathered one afternoon at Betty’s house and we watched the toilet flush and the bubbles go around. She served us tea and cookies. We had a good laugh about Betty’s Toilet Tea Party.”

One year, Edson and Schafer traveled with Ross to visit his family in Great Britain.

“She was great to enjoy the scenery and the trip, but it did not move her to tour the York Minster which to me is one of the most grand and glorious cathedrals in the world,” Schafer recalled. “Betty didn’t care. She wanted to sit outside on the bench and watch people go by.”

People, in general, were always Edson’s focus. She cared for them, strove to understand them, and perhaps even more so — help them understand each other. Edson was very measured in her communication from her, preferring the written word to phone calls. She also was a prolific journal writer for more than 30 years.

“Part of her routine every day… was to read what she was doing, 10, 15, 20 years ago and then write about the previous day,” Sheldon said. At the time of her death, she had filled 70 journals. “That was her sounding board of her, … to try to figure thoughts out on paper.”

Only then would she discuss her thoughts with other people. Sometimes during a discussion she would pull out one of her journals from her and quote from it. Her correspondence from her with people stretched decades.

In the last years of her life, Edson lived at Morgan Orchards Senior Living Community in Randolph Center, which hosted a daily gathering where people would sit and chat.

“She knew that people were purposely trying to avoid hot-button issues to avoid conflict and said we really should have an avenue for people to talk about things like that,” Wiszniak said.

Edson came up with a list of guidelines and rules for people to follow when discussing sensitive subjects. She wanted to make sure people had an opportunity to talk and felt they were being listened to.

“She wouldn’t avoid conversations, she went headstrong into them,” Sheldon said. “Ella She wanted to understand the other person’s perspective… so ella she could better understand them.”

Edson was calm during heated discussions and her friends say they never saw her in a temper, even if something greatly upset her.

“She’d listen to their point of view and have her own arguments and rebuttal,” Schafer said. “Many of us get on our high horse, but Betty always, in my estimation, respected the other person’s point of view of her even if they did not agree with her own of her.”

That was a constant throughout her life, an extension of her commitment to peace and justice. And, no matter how polarized the world became or how events in the world troubled her, she never gave up her hope for her. She continued to push for the causes she believed in.

“All of her interests were serious topics,” Wiszniak said. “She wanted to change the world.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.

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