Betty Jean Lea Johnston

Published 5:00 pm Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Betty Jean Lea Johnston, 88, was born on February 7, 1932, and passed from this life on April 7, 2020, in Brookhaven, MS, from complications of the corona virus, COVID-19.

Betty was a devoted wife, mother, daughter, sister, grandmother, aunt, and friend.  She was born in New Orleans, LA, to Shereard and Hallie Lea but lived her adult life in Brookhaven after having moved between Lincoln and Pike counties during her youth.  She attended Loyd Star School but ultimately graduated from Johnston Station School. She later attended Whitworth College for one year.

She met her eventual husband, Bryant F. Johnston, at Johnston Station.  He says she was the prettiest girl he ever saw, always was, and he’s never loved another since he first laid eyes on her.  Their marriage lasted a wonderful sixty-six years.  Their marriage led to three children, Katie, Stacie and Jeffrey. They tragically lost Jeffrey in 1982 in a swimming accident.

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As a young woman Betty worked first at Brookhaven Bank and after many years began work at State Bank where she remained until retirement.  She made life-long friends at both establishments. The friends she made along the way included people for whom Bryant built houses and the people to whom he sold/gave vegetables. Throughout her life she shared stories, gifts, treats and warm friendships with co-workers and customers she met along the way. She was the ultimate multi-tasker, manager and hard worker in life with three young children and a household to run. Long before the age of pick-up food or quick-fix from the grocery store, she put her home-cooked meals on the table every day, always with a placemat or some kind of table linens for even the simplest fare. She loved a beautiful table settting with a bouquet from her yard.

If Bryant was known as the master gardener of the vegetable world, she was known as the ultimate handler of all produce to be packaged, cleaned, cooked, frozen, sold, or eaten.  She hated waste and shared and fed a multitude of people.  Whoever dropped in & whatever hour, she offered food. She was cooking and delivering food for shut-in friends the week before she became ill. When Betty and Bryant married she received the huge Greta Gibbons cookbook and proceeded to learn by cooking every recipe she could. Many family and friends sat around her table sharing famously good fresh vegetables from Bryant’s garden, fried okra, fried chicken (a specialty), cathead biscuits, gumbo, red beans and rice, coconut cake and pie and any other southern food there is. She was a wonderful cook and taught several of her grandchildren to make their favorites by her recipes.

During the winter, ‘when there’s not so much to do’ Betty would work on quilts. She didn’t sew garments as her mother did, but she loved piecing quilts and completed several including some for grandbabies. She was always ready to learn something new, although sometimes grudgingly, applique, a new iPad, a food processor, the piano. If at first she didn’t succeed, you might just hear an impatient, “oh, flitter!” from her.

Betty had an abundant love of nature with all its parts and pieces. Being outdoors in her yard (or yours) or garden ranked very high on life’s pleasures for her. She grew or wanted to grow every flower she saw and was a talented floral arranger and garden club member. She loved garden tours in backyards of friends, with her daughters and even on her 50th wedding anniversary in England with Bryant and the girls. Her grandson remembers her love for pine bark, how pretty it was, and she had a life-long love of long-leaf pines. As equally important as her love of plants, her love of animals often landed her with more jobs. She adopted every stray that ever passed her door and nourished them with love and kindness. Her affection of animals, especially cats and dogs, was an influence from her father, Shereard, and was supported by Bryant’s affection for them as well. The family always had pets, and she helped in coming up with unique and clever names for them. A dozen names come to mind: Freckles, Tippy, Louis, Tux, Also, Chocolate, Cash, Trump (years ago!), Ellie Cat, OC, Esmeralda Loueffie Maureen, Molly, and Sabre.

Betty was loved by those around her with folks sometimes describing her as a beautiful lady, elegant, kind and full of charm and grace.

She was multifaceted in her life, enjoying and supporting others in their special circumstances. If you were going through a difficult time she was empathizing of your trials and often appeared with prayers, food, a beautifully handwritten card (her trademark), or a concerned phone call. Likewise, she loved to hear of the successes and highlights in another’s life especially her children and grands.

She was a Christian at all times.  Her greatest commitment in life as she would unabashedly tell you and demonstrate by her life was to the Lord and His church. She rarely missed a service and was totally involved with spreading the Word of God. Long ago she had written the following verse as her choice to be read at the end of her life:

One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek:

that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,

to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. Psalm 27:4

She was an example to young and old of commitment to the scripture and the old path her parents had taught her so well.  She will surely be missed at New Salem.

The family is comforted in knowing that she’s released her earthly body of pain for a better place where loved ones have gone before her. Left to cherish her memory and to attempt to represent her well are her devoted husband Bryant, her daughters, Katie and husband, Baine Adams, and Stacie and husband, Robert Kornegay. Also left are her grandchildren: Trace and Jodie Adams, Rob and Jackie Kornegay, Brian and Shauna Kornegay, Josh and Josie Adams, and only granddaughter Lea Ellen and Brian Richardson. Also surviving are her great grandchildren: Will & Tyler Adams, Bryant & Grayson & baby girl Kornegay, Mason & Charlotte Kornegay and Noah Richardson. Betty was preceded in death by her only son Jeffrey Bryant Johnston, and parents, Shereard and Hallie Smith Lea.

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