Online Obituaries for the Troy, Royal Oak, Clawson & Shelby Township MI Area

Betty F. Thomason

May 05, 1926 - September 26, 2017

Online Obituaries for the Troy, Royal Oak and Clawson , Michigan area.

Betty Fern Thomason passed early Tuesday morning, September 26, 2017. She was 91, born May 5, 1926. It was a family joke that Cinco de Mayo celebrated her birthday.

Betty enjoyed every day to her very last. On Monday she requested a take out of split pea soup for dinner, from a place she said made it just like her mother used to make it, and she ate it all. It was a family dinner with a son and two grandsons, and she talked of things like how much she enjoyed this soup and how her mother made it, and how grandson David should not underestimate his strength. Then with her son she watched a recording of the day's episode of her favorite show, and discussed the characters as usual. She enjoyed some cheesecake during her show, one of her favorite deserts. Then she watched some more, and went to bed at her usual time.

Just after 4:00 she called her grandson on her monitor for help getting to the bathroom, which was normal for her in the middle of the night. They sat on her bed and talked for a few minutes, and then she said she wanted to rest a moment because she did not feel quite right, but "don't leave." Then she laid back into her favorite curled up sleeping position on her bed, and was gone in a moment without any evident discomfort.

She had stayed active. For example, a few days before, on Friday, September 22, she'd gone to a restaurant for a family dinner to celebrate her oldest grandson's 23rd birthday. She ate her meal, and sampled her daughter-in-law's meal that she liked so much she ate a small plate of that too. Then she went to see the inside of her granddaughter's new apartment, and enthused over it for at least half an hour. Then she went to a house her son was moving into and talked about that. Then she went home, and watched the recording of that day's show with her son, discussing it and enjoying a piece of that cheesecake.

Betty often said that she considered her mother "Aggie" to be "an angel." She tried to be like her mother. For years, she set her mother's picture to watch her as she did her exercises in the living room, because she said it made her try harder. When she spent some weeks in a rehab facility last year, she'd gotten discouraged, but her mother's picture beside her bed helped her to rally the spirit she felt was right, the way she said she wanted to be, like her mother.

Her mother's maiden name was Pound, and Betty often repeated that "a Pound married a Pound" as family history. They had a candy shop in London, England, Pound's Candies. Betty's grandmother had died while her mother was still young, and her mother had gone to live with an aunt. Then a few years later that aunt died young, and Betty's mother helped raise those children, her cousins. Betty and her mother remained close to those cousins, especially Cousin Molly, corresponding and even visiting once in England and one here.  Molly and Betty had been raised by the same woman, and found they had much in common. Chatting over tea, they did seem like sisters.

Betty's father Jim Putnam was from a large family in London that had vegetable shops in Wapping. He was an official Cockney, born within the sound of London's Big Ben. He did not like the vegetable business at all. One day when he was about 15, while making a delivery, he'd stopped and watched a mason working. He was fascinated, and decided he wanted to do that. He got himself hired by that man, and learned the trade of stonemason from him. He became a very accomplished mason, working in stone and brick in the English traditions.

Then he began some wandering. He explored Canada, going so far out as building the foundations for cabins in the deep woods at a camp for lumberjacks. He wandered the American West, and his family still has a watch that says on its face he got from Kansas City. He did that for near a dozen years.

Then he went back for a visit to his family, and while delivering some groceries met a girl in at a back kitchen door named Aggie. Over a few weeks they became friends, and then he announced he was going back to Canada. He proposed. He wanted her to come with him. He said he would not be back again, and he never was. He said she had to decide, and so she did.

They booked a passage meant to celebrate. They got tickets for the maiden voyage of the new Titanic. Fortunately, the Titanic was delayed by a propeller problem, and they made the passage on the Olympic instead, the week before the Titanic disaster. The family still has the menu given to them with their tickets for the Titanic. The family has the passenger manifest of the Olympic for that voyage, showing Jim and Aggie Putnam on passage to Windor, Canada by way of the Port of New York, passing through the port and taking the railroad from there to Windor without formal entry to the US, as it was done then.

Betty's two oldest sisters Lillian and Violet were born in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Then the family moved across the River to Detroit, where the booming building trade after WW1 offered an accomplished mason a good living building up the postwar Motor City. The family had three more daughters in Detroit, Rose, Daisy, and Betty was the youngest.

Betty was born on the kitchen table in that Detroit home, with the help of only a midwife who was a neighbor and friend of the family. Such was medicine in 1926. Rose had been born third of five children in the same way, but did not make it. Such was medicine in 1926.

Lillian was 13 years older than Betty, Violet 11 years older, and Daisy less than two years older. From that spacing came relationships among the sisters lasting eight decades. 

The oldest daughter Lillian was usually responsible for the youngest, Betty. They became very close all their lives. Lillian was an exceptional beauty, and lots of fun. Betty adored her.

Violet was usually responsible for Daisy, and from that and their personalities came a relationship that was both close and an intense rivalry at the same time. Seventy years later they lived together, just one house over from Betty, and they were close yet fought about the craziest things. Violet did not like bananas, but Daisy did. Violet bought some bananas for Daisy. Daisy ate the last one, and Violet was offended she ate the last one without offering it, even though for over seventy years they'd both known Violet did not like them. So each in turn came next door to Betty to talk about how rude the other one was and complain long and loud over one banana, and Betty felt exasperated, near crazy herself just from listening to them.

As the family grew in Detroit, Jim built houses and sold them on the odd mortgages of the time that allowed the bank a long recourse against the seller. He had a position from building and selling 29 houses, and some real wealth, when the Great Depression hit. The buyers could not pay, and the banks then demanded the money from Jim. Within months, Jim was completely wiped out, all the houses foreclosed, and he lost everything except one undeveloped lakefront lot on Runyon Lake, near Fenton, Michigan.

That was also an end to the building boom in Detroit, and even an accomplished mason and contractor could find no work. Betty often said that her father "nearly lost his mind" during this hard time.

He volunteered to work for a church. He expertly did complex masonry work on the Shrine of the Little Flower on Woodward at 12 Mile, in a lavish zig-zag Art Deco style. In 1998, the United States Bishops’ Conference declared the site a National Shrine, one of only five in the country. In 2015 it was also designated a "minor basilica" of the Catholic Church, only the second in Michigan. It is widely considered a masterpiece of the Art Deco style. He did that superb fancy masonry work for weekly bags of groceries.

He took Betty and Daisy to work with him during this time, because Aggie was not well from a heart condition. Betty often recalled playing with Daisy in a sand pile meant for cement, when Jim fell from the scaffolding into the sand pile. He brushed himself off and went back to work. Betty explained he "knew how to fall" from time he'd spent in his wanderings, as a sometime boxer, so he did not get hurt from some major tumbles.

Betty explained that what "saved his mind" was his constant work at every opportunity on a cobblestone cottage in the English style on the shore of Runyon Lake. Whenever he had a bit of money for cement and gas, he'd disappear for a few day to work on "The Cottage."

When it was still mostly black tar paper, the family moved in for the summers. This was the start of one of the most important things in Betty's life, her connection to The Cottage.

Each morning Aggie would get up before the kids, and work in the large garden behind the house. Betty would wake up, and look out to see the large hat of her mother moving in the garden, and call out to her that they were up for breakfast.

Aggie canned the produce of that garden, and they lived on it. She canned some Mason jars of vegetables mixed ready for soup, others as side dishes. They also traded it with neighbors, one who baked bread, another for eggs, another for milk. That is how people ate during the Great Depression, growing and doing, and trading. Betty and Daisy especially liked on woman's pots of Sauerkraut, and would sneak in to get it. For meat, they had cans of Spam for when other things were short, and Betty had memories of late-in-the-week meals of various ways to make Spam.

But through all that, Betty loved life at the Cottage. She played there with her lifelong friend Dorothy, from just down the water, who was just far enough away that they could only meet in the middle where both of their mothers could see them from their homes. She swam every day near all day, living in swim suits for the summers.

Betty turned 18 during WW2, and took a job with the Army Ordnance headquarters in Detroit. She liked that work, and liked her boss, who was protective of her. When Lillian's husband came by to take her to lunch one day, her boss wanted to know just exactly who that man was, which Betty found really funny every time she told the story.

When the War ended so did that job, and she found a place with the advertising department of Burroughs Corp. She really enjoyed thatg work, and often talked of it as something she had never wanted to give up.

But when the War ended, she also met her future husband Richard. She met him just as he came out of the Navy. It was so soon after his return home that he apologized to her, saying he had no clothes that fit except his uniform, because he'd outgrown all his other clothes as he grew another 3" while in the Navy. They met going dancing, Betty with her sisters and Richard with his best friend Harry. Lillian picked out Richard, and played matchmaker, encouraging Richard to ask Betty out. Betty was rather popular, and Lillian had to push Richard to keep trying. Richard always liked Lillian too, not least for when she told Betty to make some time to see Richard.

The first time Richard brought Betty home to meet his mother, Betty said "let's dance" and kicked off her shoes to dance on the hardwood living room floor. Richard's mother said that was the moment she knew "she liked that girl." So did Richard.

Richard wanted to get married. Betty was reluctant. She explained that all her sisters were going through divorces as the War ended, and she just did not feel marriage in the middle of all that. Richard persisted.

When they finally married, they decided to build a house together. The two of them did it. Jim Putnam did the brick work for them. One of Richard's cousins did the driveway and plastering. The rest they did themselves. Betty recalled sitting on the roof, helping nail on the roofing, so tired she felt she'd drop.

The first house was small. They added on, time after time over the years. They refinished the interior. Richard always had another project, and Betty just wanted it to be cleaned up by the holidays as her condition to agree. It got to be a big house.

As the house grew, still summers were spent with near every weekend at the Cottage. Betty still loved the place. Her sisters were always there too, with their kids. The cousins became more like brothers and sisters, from all the time at the Cottage and the holidays together too.

Betty and Daisy so close in age had always been partners in adventures too. This became decades of Tea Time near every weekday, as they shared some tea and stories at 3:00.

Betty quit working when her first child was born, Mark, in 1954. She did not really want to quit work in advertising, but Richard insisted that somebody had to be home with the kids. He was a police officer in Birmingham, and worked all sorts of hours on a monthly cycle of days, afternoons, nights, and swing shift mixing them together. He flet that if he could not be there consistently, she had to be.  She agreed, both to do it and with the reasoning, but she was always a bit sorry she left that job she really liked. A second child, David, two years later made it even more impossible to imagine a way to go back to work.

Betty was a very involved mother, from flash card and homework to volunteering at school. That was even more so when her third child arrived, Lori born 1967. Her elementary school was next door to the house, and her friends gathered before and after school at the house. That became friendship with many of the girls in Lori's life, all the way to synchronized swimming for which she sewed the swimsuits. When Lori went to college, that included her roommates. One who lived far in the Northern Penisula would come to stay with Betty. The girls from grade school continued to come by, showing off their own kids years later.

Betty also had some of the children of Daisy's children spend a lot of time with her, both Nancy's boys and Pat's. Pat's boy Mike lived with her recently, and even installed her new toilet for her. Nancy's boy Jeremy was a regular for years.

Holidays were important to all this. When the children were young, Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve rotated between the homes of Violet, Daisy, and Betty. As the years passed, that became most holidays at Betty's house. Everyone came together. The whole family was close and stayed close, because of this, because of the Cottage, and because of Betty.

The Cottage was so important that Betty continued to dream of it many nights, even recently, long after it had been sold. It's time may have passed, but it left a deep mark on all of the family, and especially Betty.

Perhaps taking after her mother, Betty always had a green thumb, and loved spending time in her yard gardening. In later years she spent time just watching her large yard, and especially enjoyed the "bunny rabbits" and squirrels in the yard. She knew all the birds and what they meant for the seasons. Her house and yard were a great pleasure to her.

After Richard retired, they got a motor home, and began to travel. Betty's rule was she had to have her tea at 3:00 and her own comfortable bed. If they arranged that, she was happy traveling. They went everywhere. They explored New England, especially talking about Maine and its lobsters. They traveled the Gulf Coast and Betty loved to walk those beaches. They visited the national parks of the West. Sometimes they traveled with others, other retired Birmingham police or other members of Richard's family. Sometimes they just struck out alone. They traveled like that for years, and really enjoyed it. Then one day Richard had what she later felt was a serious heart attack, and he never again felt safe to go off all self reliant as driver of a big motor home towing a car. He surpised Betty by selling that motor home rather suddenly. 

However, he took to writing every day, books about his experience and imaginings. He would sit in the yard during the summer and think about it, and Betty would sit with him enjoying her yard and his company.

Betty and Richard were married for 49 years, and his passing was traumatic for her, not least for her making the final decision to "pull the plug" when hope was gone and the wires on his chest to keep his heart going were burning him. She often revisited that terrible day, talking about how it made her feel, and her doubts and pain. 

After Richard passed, Betty got involved in the Red Hats. They became very important to her. They were a social circle, and she was always pleased that they worked out so well as a group. She also liked to have lunch at the Senior Center, with so many people from Clawson she'd known for so many years. She went back to the Trinity Lutheran Church too. For some years she was playing weekly cards with a group of women from all of these places, and she claimed she became a dangerously good poker player with the help of a card showing the odds given her by her niece Betty Clark, Daisy's oldest girl. She also loved her monthly Girls' Day with the Thomason girls, who treated her very well as when she could do less herself. The regular visits of some of her friends helped too, such as Mary Lou coming by to talk and talk the way Betty really liked.

Betty had a bad year in 2016, spending a lot of time in the hospital and rehab. When she came home, she could no longer live alone. However, she stayed in her home and among the things she enjoyed. 

At first, Betty Clark lived with her much of the time. Then Betty had to return to the hospital and rehab for a time. When she came home again, two of her grandsons, Marky and David, took turns staying in her other bedroom, listening on a monitor to her bedroom, giving her 24/7 care. Her son Mark brought meals each day, and sat with her in the evenings, and ran the errands and took her places. Her son David and daughter Lori made big efforts to relieve that with their own time. David's dog Happy Dog also became a welcome family member Betty always fed from the table after saying every day not to do that. She was always with family, never with unknown "care givers." At the end Betty had some hours of confusion on some days, and having family there seemed to help bring her back.

It did seem that as the year 2017 went by, Betty became stronger. She put on a little weight and filled out. She was able to do more and more. She was proud to walk a bit without her walker, and to get out in the yard to walk in the grass. She worked hard on her breathing with balloons and deep breathing exercises, so she rarely needed oxygen, what she called her "tail" for the tube. Her progress was not rapid, but right up until the last day or two she kept getting stronger and stronger, from a force of will to get better. Betty said often that is what her mother would have wanted her to do.

Funeral Information

Friends may visit Gramer Funeral Home, 705 North Main Street (Livernois between 14-15 mile roads.) Clawson, MI

Friday, September 29, 2017, from 2 pm until 8 pm.  A Celebration of Betty's life will be held at 11 am Saturday at the Funeral Home. 

Burial will take place next to her husband Richard at Roseland Park Cemetery.

Handicapped entrance is located on the north side of the building. Please call ahead if you would like our staff assistance. (248) 435-9010

Directions

Visitation:  Gramer Funeral Home

Service:  Gramer Funeral Home

Cemetery:  Roseland Park Cemetery

Betty F. Thomason

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I cannot say thank you enough. Your sensitivity, your kindness, and the attention to every detail will always be remembered and cherished.