A good life in Clinton

Betty Stair helped make a little city on the Clinch River a home for her family

  • Mike Stair looks over his mother’s high school memories before they are donated to Clinton High School. His mother, Betty Stair, died Jan. 16. She was the first majorette at Clinton High School, in 1949. - Ken Leinart

  • Seventy-plus years after modeling her majorette uniform for the bottom picture, Betty Stair left her uniform in an old laundry bag in the back of a storage closet for her sons to find. - Ken Leinart

  • In 1949, 17-year-old Betty Stair was a senior and the first-ever majorette for Clinton High School. She was also the FFA Queen her senior year. - Ken Leinart

  • Betty Stair - Ken Leinart

Betty Stair was 88 years old when she died Jan. 16 from complications of COVID-19.

She had lived a full life.

She was a true friend, she loved her family unconditionally, and she was a Clintonian to the core.

So, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when her son, Mike, found one symbol of his mother’s legacy “tucked away in the back of a storage closet in an old laundry bag,” he said.

Betty Stair was — and she wasn’t shy about telling anyone within earshot at high school reunions throughout the years — the first band majorette at Clinton High School in her senior year in 1949.

Mike Stair smiled at the memory.

“Oh, she was proud of that,” he said.

“You know she wrote her own obituary almost every year,” he said, laughing. “And she always included that. When I was going through her 34 revisions of her obituary, it was always mentioned.”

And sure enough, when Mike composed his mother’s final obituary, that fact was included.

So maybe it shouldn’t have been that big of a surprise when Mike reached into that old laundry bag and felt something … Silky?

“I thought, ‘Is that a wedding dress?’” he said. “I had no idea what it was.”

After Betty Stair died, it was up to Mike to sort through his mother’s belongings. His brother, Edward Stair Jr., Mike said, has a minor disability and wasn’t physically able to spend the time going through their mother’s belongings.

“My mother kept an immaculate house,” he said. “You walk in her house and it’s like nothing is out of place.”

But he found — tucked away in drawers and in closets — the memories of his mother’s life. “I found bank statements from my grandmother in a drawer,” he said. “She must have kept everything.”

Perhaps they were reminders for Betty Nichols Stair. Reminders of a life’s journey that was truly just that — a journey.

She “slipped off” to Rising Fawn, Georgia, when she was 16 to marry Edward Stair Sr.

“She was married during her senior year at Clinton High School,” Mike said. She was also the Future Farmers of America Queen and, as noted, the first majorette at Clinton High School in 1949.

It was during her high school years that Betty found a guiding principle of her life — a principle she passed on to her sons: Always be kind to people.

“It was a different time,” Mike Stair said. “The class of 1949 were very close. They still are. They cared for each other; they looked out for each other. I think it was because they didn’t really have anything. I mean, they all grew up poor.”

Mike said his mother grew up in Carroll Hollow. “They didn’t have anything,” he said.

“I think that was a bond for them, but it was a good life.”

So, when Mike pulled the laundry bag out of the storage closet and looked inside, he found his mother’s majorette uniform from 1949.

“I called Ed and said, ‘You are not going to believe what I just found,’” he said.

Mike had found his mother’s baton from 1949 a day or two before discovering the uniform, so again, maybe he shouldn’t have been surprised.

And maybe “surprise” is not the correct term. Betty Stair’s majorette uniform from 1949, tucked away in an old laundry bag in a storage closet in the back of her house, was more of a confirmation.

Of all things Clinton.

The uniform looks brand new, but Mike said there is a small rip on the inside lining of the garment.

“It’s kinda unbelievable,” he said. “That uniform is, what? Seventy-plus years old?”

After finding the uniform, he called Clinton High School and spoke with Lecia Watson, the front office secretary), and told her what he found. He asked if the school would like to have the uniform.

It will be donated and placed in the school’s trophy case, Mike said.

Betty Stair had a good life. Good memories. Good family. She was a Clintonian.

Betty Stair’s majorette uniform is a reminder of that. It’s a reminder of where she, and her family, come from: A little city on the banks of the Clinch River.

“We are Clinton through and through,” Mike said. The family lived on a farm behind where Papa John’s is located in Clinton — at the time that was the edge of city limits.

Mike said he remembers watching National Guard troops “man the road” leading into the city during the integration of Clinton High School. He said he used to sit under the columns of the new bridge being built across the Clinch River.

“Really, it was like growing up on the Andy Griffith Show,” he said.

Mike even has a painting in his dining room of “the house I grew up in” on Washington Avenue in Clinton. It was painted by his wife, Sharon.

These are the reminders for Mike of where he came from, of where his roots are.

Being a Clintonian is a family trait.

Betty Stair was a Clintonian. The path of her life confirms that.

She worked as a secretary for “Mr. Kinkaid” at Magnet Mills after high school.

She also worked at a doctor’s office in Clinton and finally in Oak Ridge at one of the Department of Defense plants.

And she was the first majorette at Clinton High School in 1949.