Elizabeth Nan Brigham (Betty) came into this world on October 10, 1925, with an independent spirit and dreams of adventure and purpose. She sustained this spirit throughout her life, even as she periodically faced down challenges to that self-determination in an era when women were not commonly expected to have aspirations that stretched beyond their families. Her parents were not churchgoers, but she chose to attend a protestant church on her own at a young age. Her parents had saved money to send her younger brother to college but did not believe that a woman needed higher education, so Betty left high school early in order to take on a full-time job at the Navy Department in Washington D.C. She completed her high school diploma in the evening and then enrolled in evening college classes. She continued to work full-time at the Navy Department until she graduated from George Washington University after completing her pre-med requirements and a major in psychology.
Betty’s plans included medical school, but while at GWU, she met a handsome veteran who was taking classes at GWU while waiting to re-enroll at Cornell University after being called up to serve in WWII. This young man shared her sense of humor and adventure and shortly after she graduated, they married and drove to Albuquerque, New Mexico where they began their married life on the edge of the mesa.
Over the next seventeen years, Betty and Richens moved back to Washington D.C. and began their family. They eventually relocated to the house that Richens built in Arlington Virginia, where they raised their seven children, alternating genders all the way down the line. Betty was a stay-at-home mom for many years but was always active in church activities, teaching Sunday School, and eventually becoming a Biblical scholar who enjoyed comparing accounts from the Koran and the Torah as she researched Biblical history. She built a following at the Clarendon Baptist Church with her Sunday school class, at a time when the Southern Baptist Convention was undergoing a movement to remove women from the ministry and embrace conservative social values.
After the children got older, Betty returned to GWU and completed a master’s degree in Women’s Studies and Social Work. She began working as a social worker for Arlington County and also became part of the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC), an ecumenical advisory board that focused primarily on working to meet the challenges of poverty and food insecurity in Arlington. After she retired, she served on the board and also as a volunteer for AMEN (Arlingtonians Meeting Emergency Needs), an organization that distributes money to meet emergency needs in the community. Both organizations continue to expand and thrive to this day.
In 1990, Betty and Richens hiked the Grand Canyon from the north to the south rim, accompanied by four of their children and one grandchild. They camped along the way, backpacking their food, clothing, and camping equipment. It was the trip of a lifetime, and when it was finished, they found their way back to St. George, Utah, where they had rented a car for the journey. They fell in love with St. George, which was not so far from where they had begun their marriage, and decided to pull up their roots in Arlington Virginia, where they had raised their family, and move to St. George for their retirement.
The twenty-some years in St. George were the happiest and most harmonious of their 66-year marriage. They loved the desert and the mountains and found a house on the Virgin River and overlooking the valley which cradled the city of St. George. They spent many hours on their porch admiring and observing the natural beauty of their surroundings.
After Richens passed away in 2014, Betty continued to drive her women’s group, the Dixie Ramblers, to various hiking locations in the region. She became something of an expert in hiking trails and destinations that were off the beaten path. She wrote a short history of an abandoned town for the local historical society. She began studying genealogy. She continued to indulge her voracious appetite for books of all types; history, religion, philosophy, fiction, and biography.
In 2016, Betty decided to move to Evanston, Illinois to be near her two living daughters. She moved into the independent living wing of Three Crowns Park, with her books and her collection of southwestern art and artifacts. She found a community of people who were aging gracefully and led active intellectual and creative lives. She was happy there, in the company of the friends she made and in regular contact with her daughters and her sons who traveled frequently to spend time with her; especially for Mother’s Day and her birthday.
Betty died a dignified and peaceful death at Three Crowns Park on Thursday, May 27, 2021. She is deeply missed. She is survived by a brother, Hal Dean, and six children, David Richens (Laura) Brigham, Carol Lynn Brigham, James Edward (Michelle) Brigham, Leslie Marie (Ed) Finn, Stephen Dean Brigham, and Richard Matthew (Kirsten) Brigham. She was preceded in death by her husband (Richens Elijah Brigham), and two children, Lisa Christine McCarthy (Robert), and Merry Alice Brigham. She also leaves grandchildren Dean and Rae Brigham, Lars and Eva Kohlman, Julie Durbin, Jane (Andy) Deitrich, Julie Stocker Brigham, Elizabeth (Christopher) Marie Follett, Jeanne Skye Finn, Caitlin, Charles, Kellen, and Luke McCarthy and Leo Brigham. Betty also enjoyed her great-grandchildren, Marie and Thelma Follett, Linnea and Noah Durbin, and Simon, Ramona, and Charlotte Deitrich.
A memorial service for Betty’s family and friends will be held at the Bloomington Hills Chapel in St. George, Utah on Thursday, September 16, 2021, at 9:30 am, followed by a private graveside service for the family.
Arrangements are made under the direction of Spilsbury Mortuary, 110 S. Bluff St., St. George, Utah, (435) 673-2454. Friends and family are invited to sign Elizabeth’s online guest book at www.spilsburymortuary.com.