Elizabeth "Betsey" Wood Sweet, 80, of Concord, Massachusetts, died peacefully on 8 May, after a sudden illness.
Betsey was born on 1 Sept. 1937 in Philadelphia to John Paul and Catharine Wood. Her father was a medical doctor, one of the first to be certified in radiology. As a result of his work for the U.S. Navy, she grew up in a variety of cities around the world including Boston, Honolulu, London, and Charleston, before he retired into private practice in Quincy, Illinois. On the morning of 7 December 1941, she, her mother and sisters were on the docks at Pearl Harbor to meet her father, then the ship's doctor of the U.S.S. Honolulu, who was planning to spend the day with them. Instead, the exploding bombs and strafing gunfire of the Japanese attack drove them to shelter under a nearby bandstand. Betsey attended Ashley Hall in Charleston, where she made lifelong friends, and graduated from Baylor University with bachelor's degree in elementary education in 1959. During one memorable summer, she worked with her sister Dixie and cousin Steven Guittard at the YMCA camp in Estes Park, Colorado, where dozens of family members gathered for a reunion fifty-five years later. In 1960, she moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she married Frank R. Sweet, Jr. They had three boys and, in the early 1970s, moved to Concord.
Betsey started out teaching in public elementary schools, beginning with the second grade and moving to the first grade for several years in Newton. But her true calling was early childhood education. Betsey served for many years as a nursery school teacher and director; earned a Master in Education degree at Tufts University in 1981; and for many years served as adjunct member of the faculty at Middlesex Community College, where she enjoyed training the next generation of early childhood teachers and school administrators. In Concord, she was best known as the longtime teacher-director of the Milldam Nursery School, where she worked for more than two decades. She also worked, part time, at the Infant and Toddler Center in Acton from the late 1990s until the time of her death. Reflecting on her long career, she said: "I have three boys--but thousands of children." Betsey graced the lives of countless children and parents with her warmth, wisdom, and steady guidance. Looking back on her work at Milldam, during her final illness, she remarked: "I loved every day."
Betsey was an active member of Trinity Episcopal Church, in Concord, where for many years she organized the Sunday School program, served on the Altar Guild, the Flower Guild, and, most recently, the Funeral Reception Guild. She was also a great lover of nature and, in particular, of birds. She loved walking (never without her binoculars) in the fields and forests of Concord and surrounding towns, birding excursions with friends, and participating in Audubon Society events. Recently, with her long-time friend Esther Williams, she conducted a study of cormorants on Brush Island, Cohasset, overcoming various challenges including a foundering rowboat to document this important nesting site. She also enjoyed winter birding expeditions to sites in Belize, the Caribbean, and the Galapagos Islands.
Betsey was remarkable for her selflessness, her service as a caretaker for a wide range of family members and friends, and for her ability, despite sometimes difficult circumstances, to find contentment. Early days spent bobbing in the warm waters of Hawaii sparked a life-long love of swimming. After a long float in the waves off Herring Cove on Cape Cod several years ago, she was asked how she could stand the chilly water. "I've always loved swimming in the ocean, and when I moved to New England I realized that my options were to give it up or to get used to the cold. So I got used to the cold." Her final days were marked by the same sense of gratitude and inner peace; more than once she affirmed, "I've had a wonderful life."
Betsey is survived by her sons Frank "Chep" R. Sweet and his wife Robin of Boxborough, John Wood Sweet and his spouse Greg Fitch of Chapel Hill, N.C., and Mark Christopher McKone-Sweet and his wife Kate of San Diego, Ca.; her grandchildren Hayley, Matthew, Andrew, Lindsey, Adam and Bobby Sweet; Maya and Marcos McKone-Sweet; and Thomas and Elizabeth Fitch-Sweet; her sisters Virginia and Dixie; and a host of cherished relatives and friends. She was pre-deceased by her husband Frank in 2006. She will be buried privately at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord.
All are welcome to join a celebration of Betsey's life at Trinity Episcopal Church in Concord at 10:00 on the morning of Saturday, May 26th and a reception following the service at 11:30 at the Milldam Nursery School. Memorial donations are welcome at Milldam Nursery School in Concord, the Infant and Toddler Center in Acton, or any preschool.