Betty Jo Goodall, left, was eager to show Delores Miller, her across-the-street neighbor in Battlefield, her new high-powered bright red Dodge Charger after she and husband Ray bought it out of a dealer showroom in 2011. (Contributed photo)

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When her family reminisces about Betty Goodall, they tell of pleasant surprises as well as steady predictability.

Her car, for instance: Bright red paint, big chrome wheels, a “Hemi” logo proclaiming that a high-powered V8 engine lurks under the hood. A Dodge Charger. Not exactly what most would expect a woman in her 80s to buy as her daily driver.

“She always wanted the biggest and strongest motor in whatever car she had,” says Ray Goodall of his wife of seven decades who died April 27 at age 91. “Her saying was, ‘When I put my foot down, I want to smell rubber burning!’”

Their romance was another surprise. She was born in the Kansas City suburb of Independence, he in rural Arkansas. Their paths crossed as high school students in Verona 35 miles southwest of Springfield. But, recalls Ray, “We couldn’t stand one another. I thought she was a brat. She thought I was a snob because I wouldn’t pay any attention to her.”

So when the letter arrived from Betty more than a year after members of the Class of 1948 were graduated, Ray’s initial reaction was: “What the hey?” He had joined the Marine Corps and was stationed in California. But he well-remembered the pert classmate back home, and he was intrigued.

“I read the letter, and I went ahead and answered it. We began corresponding quite a bit. Then in May of ’50, I came back on leave and we started dating. Before I returned to active duty, I asked her if she’d marry me. And early that November she and her mother came to California, and we were married.”

Their first 20 years as a couple were nomadic as Ray worked his way up the Marine Corps ranks from private to captain. He served in Korea during that war and was stationed in Okinawa for a while, which left Betty and their growing family behind stateside. They later were together at domestic postings in Pennsylvania, Texas, California and Hawaii, but even then Ray’s duties — ranging from recruiter to drill instructor to administrator — weren’t routine 9-to-5 jobs, requiring frequent absences.

All the while, the one-time Bratty Betty served as Steady Betty.

“Mom was always there”

“I never missed a ball practice, never missed a Scout trip when I was growing up,” recalls Richard Goodall, the eldest of their three children. “Mom was always there.”

She was for Ray, too. “Even when we’d argue about something, when the smoke and dust cleared, I never had to look around to see where she was at,” he says. “She was standing right beside me.”

Richard chuckles recalling one occasion on which he wished his mom hadn’t been so persistently present when he was a teenager: “We were informed that we had to get a whole list of shots before we could move to Hawaii — typhoid fever, typhus, everything but the plague, I think. I don’t do well with needles. Mom took me to get my shots, and she’s literally having to push me down the hallway to the doctor’s office. About halfway there, I’m not standing anymore — I’d passed out — and she’s pushing this limp body down the hall to make sure I got my shots.

“A while later, when we were packing up, the doctor’s office called and said: ‘We made a mistake — we forgot that Hawaii is a state now, and you don’t need all those shots anymore to go there.’

“It took a long time for me to let Mom forget that one.”

After Ray retired from the Marines in 1970, the Goodalls moved back to Missouri, to Springfield for a year, then to suburban Battlefield ever since. The kids scattered — Richard eventually to Florida, daughter Pamela to Oklahoma and younger son Douglas to Alabama.

(A note on names: Ray’s full name is Elbert Ray Goodall, but Betty always called him by the nickname “Doc” that was hung on him in high school when Elbert proved too difficult for classmates to remember. Later he started going by his middle name. Douglas’ middle name also is Ray, and that’s the one he, too, prefers. Meanwhile, Ray always called Betty by her middle name, Jo.)

Pamela suffered a fatal heart attack three years ago. But the boys continue to make regular trips back to Missouri, to head to the deer woods with their dad, or to try their luck at fishing or hunting small game. And, as always, they counted on Betty to deal with the proceeds.

“The only thing she absolutely refused to cook was frog legs,” says Richard, because of the limbs’ tendency to twitch in the frying pan. “Squirrel and rabbit she could deal with. And if we had venison, she’d make chili. She made great venison chili — and after she quit cooking, when someone else made it, she’d be the first one in line with a bowl.”

Douglas praises another of his mother’s spicy specialties: “She made killer tacos. They were always a big hit. Anytime I came back home, I wanted some of Mom’s tacos.”

Fish also were among Betty’s favorites to cook and to eat. “She’d go for a kettle of white bass,” recalls Richard. “She favored the little ones, no bigger than your hand. She loved those little filets.”

Doug’s wife Judy says Betty welcomed her into the Goodall kitchen — even after Judy “almost burned her oven up one time when I forgot we’d stuck the pizza box from the night before into the oven, and I turned it on.” Judy is especially grateful that Betty shared favorite family recipes for cookies and candy that have allowed her to continue family Christmastime traditions.

Loved games, and tracked list of some 3,500 books she had read

Betty Jo Goodall, 1930-2022 (Contributed photo)

After the move back to Greene County, Betty worked in office jobs at H&R Block and at Bass Pro for several years. In her leisure time, she was an avid bowler, playing on several local league teams. She enjoyed solving word puzzles, and liked to play card games such as canasta, pinochle, even poker (wagering with malted milk balls).

“And about the only thing she used our computer for was to play mahjong,” says Ray, referring to an ancient Chinese game using tiles similar to cards. “She loved mahjong and played it by the hour sometimes.”

Betty did use the computer for at least one other activity — tracking books she’d read. She was a voracious reader, especially of quality suspense and mystery novels. A printout of the list she compiled fills 19 pages with some 3,500 titles.

Ray had been a casual reader, usually of factual history books or classic Zane Grey westerns. Betty expanded his selection to include popular modern authors such as Stephen King, Michael McGarrity, Dean Koontz, Lee Child, Tess Garretsen, Iris Johansen and John Saul.

She encouraged Judy as well: “Betty would call me and tell me every time she’d found a new author she thought I’d like. I’d go check it out — and usually she was right.”

Ray cites something else he learned from Betty: patience. “I was a little prone to be quick on some things,” he admits. “She was very helpful in keeping me out of trouble.” Her youngest son echoes that sentiment: “Mom kept me out of trouble a lot,” says Douglas. “She was a wonderful mother.”

Betty’s maternal instincts extended to cats. Four of her recent pets still inhabit the house, with two of them “gifts” from a feral female feline that regularly visited the Goodall back yard.

“She came by every morning and evening — still does, in fact — for food that we set out,” explains Ray. “She won’t come in the house, won’t even let anyone pet her except when she’s eating. But three years ago she had a litter and carried them here and dumped them at our back door — five kittens. We gave three away and kept two.”

The Goodalls smile and laugh a lot when talking about their departed wife, mother and mother-in-law. Even when recounting the good-natured debate over what to engrave on the headstone for her grave.

“If it were up to me,” says Richard, “I would’ve put the one thing I remember Mom always saying when I was growing up: ‘You just wait until your dad gets home…!”

Richard’s wife, Denise, voted for “... and so forth and so on,” which was how Betty often ended her sentences when speaking.

Ray’s vote was the one that counted, however. So the headstone reads: “Vaya con Dios, mi amor” — Spanish for “Go with God, my love.”

And, speaking of going, Ray adds one more note about that snazzy red car:

“She may have talked about burning rubber, but she wasn’t really like that,” says Ray. “She very seldom screeched a tire. But it was definitely HER car. I never drove it except at her request.

“Now it’s parked in the garage, and I’m not sure what we’re going to do with it….”

Mike O'Brien

Mike O'Brien is a longtime newspaper reporter, editor and columnist who had a long career at the Springfield News-Leader. He also is a college journalism educator in Springfield and has produced the Lives Remembered series of feature obituaries for the Daily Citizen. Email him at More by Mike O'Brien