Betty Jo Clem
“Here is what I want you to
know: most days—today—I think myself more beautiful than you ever
did. You would not believe the way I dance, my husband’s hand against
the bone the wing would unfold from, should I ever decide to fly.”
- Appalachian poet Pauletta Hansel, “Letter to Myself, 15.”
Betty Jo Clem (nee Griffin) was born on a Sunday in 1943 and died on a Sunday in 2023. Maybe it’s poetry; maybe it’s coincidence. But Betty Jo rarely did anything without purpose.
She was a seeker in her soul, every choice she made an excavation. Searching, always, for more. More beauty, fun, finery, adventure. More time, even, and her family is deeply grateful for her final gift - days where we saw more of those traffic-stopping Parrish-blue eyes. Moments where we felt the strength in her arms around us, her famous I love you, darlin’ on repeat like the soothing loop of Elvis’ voice in her room. Hours with her beloved husband of almost sixty-four years, Robert Ernest “Bob” Clem, Sr., listening to music and holding each other with a peace only decades of knowing and being known by someone can create.
The Lady Clem never met a baby or a slot machine she didn’t want to sit with and get to know. She loved glittery bracelets and delicate teacups, diamond rings and silky pajamas. She searched for the divine in the ordinary, built it into her legacy. She was elated in her final days to have all four of her children in the room with her at the same time: Belinda Anne Fischer (nee Clem) (Linda), Robert Ernest “Bob” Clem, Jr., Joel Anthony “Tony” Clem (Donna), and Virgil Thomas Clem (Kimberly).
Betty Jo was preceded in death by her parents, Susie (nee Whittamore) and Dewey Griffin, and her dear brothers Elmer Griffin (Joyce) and Tom Griffin. But joyfully, in addition to her husband Bob and their four children, she is remembered by her siblings, Lena Cupp (George) and Herschel Griffin (Patty), as well as fourteen grandchildren — Jennifer (Alexander), Justin (Ashley), Jarod (Carmen), Eric, Elisha, Logan, Joel (Savannah), Jake, Mackalia, Olivia, Kendra, Nariah, Alexis, and Brayden — and seventeen great-grandchildren — Oliver, JC, Grayson, Manning, Levi, Lucas, Mykenzye, Emariah, Qortni, Eriq, Emonte, Jazlynn, Addy, Braxtyn, Jake Jr., Zaiden, and Nolan.
And on a quiet, snow-shimmered Sunday in January, wrapped in the peace of family and with her son Tony by her side, she went home to reunite with her mama and daddy and to wait for her husband.
“Letter to Myself, 15” from Heartbreak Tree by Pauletta Hansel used with permission of the poet.