Doris Betts lived ideals of originality, equity and democracy

On October 7, 2012, I was honored to make some remarks at a gathering to remember and honor Doris Betts, beloved writer, teacher and public servant.


Thank you, Bland (Simpson), for allowing me to be with you today. Today is an important celebration. I’m pleased to be able to welcome you all on behalf of the university. And it is one of the great honors of my life to have known Doris Betts and to have the chance to say something about her and her impact on Carolina today.

Originality is the touchstone of a research university. Its pursuit guides our scientists, our humanists, our writers and our artists. Conveying the rigors of originality guides our teaching. Our students come here to learn what it means to create. To create knowledge, art, ideas and the future.

Creating is lonely. It takes a toughness few understand. It takes courage to redo experiments and rewrite sentences. Thankfully, there are those who have what it takes. And no one had what it takes more than Doris.

When Randall Kenan and I were students here in the 1980s, Doris Betts was Carolina’s most famous professor. The lines outside her office in Greenlaw stretched for miles. And when she came out of the building, her star power moved across the campus. She was successful enough to leave if she wanted to. At the time, I wondered why such a famous writer would stay in the university, but when I became a college professor myself and then got to know her later, I knew. Those of you who knew her then already understood it. She had to

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teach. She had to be with the different kinds of people that you find at a place like this. And she had a lot of questions she wanted to ask.

Doris provided great counsel to me and, I’m sure, to my predecessors. She knew what the university was for. When the retired faculty voted her to the faculty council, she attended dutifully. She always stopped me to tell me things were going fine even when it seemed like they weren’t. She was right, because she knew the students, staff and faculty would keep learning and keep creating and keep asking questions no matter what.

It is hard to imagine an endeavor that has shaped the narrative of Carolina more than creative writing. It demonstrates our ideals of originality, equity and democracy. No one lived by those ideals more than Doris Betts.

Thank you all for being here.


One Comment

  1. 1
    Joyce Fitzpatrick

    Holden: Thanks for your kind remembrance of Doris. I remember when we were working on the Bicentennial campaign, she penned an essay, “Testifying to Carolina’s Tradition of Excellence.” She ends it this way. “Sombeody asked Robert Frost what good was a liberal arts education? Well, Frost admitted, eduation didn’t solve all life’s problems, but what it could do was lift people’s experiences, even their troubles, to ‘a higher plane of higher regard.’ For example, he said, everybody sooner or later has difficulty with their children; children seem ungrateful; children get jealous with one another. ‘Ah,’ he said, with a lifting motion of this hands, ‘but if you’ve read King lear?’”