Betty Clyde Sharp almost didn’t make it to the Columbus Exchange Club’s weekly meeting on Thursday.
She had an early morning doctor’s appointment in Birmingham. On her way back, she received a text saying Exchange Club President Jerry Fortenberry would be speaking at the meeting, which was at noon at Lion Hills Center.
“I’m coming to hear Jerry’s talk,” she told her husband, Howard Sharp.
But Howard knew the truth: Betty Clyde was actually the recipient for the club’s 2019 Book of Golden Deeds Award, an annual award recognizing volunteers who contribute often to the community but who rarely receive attention for their efforts.
“I was charged with getting her here on time,” Howard said.
The Book of Golden Deeds is normally given in the spring, said Exchange Club member Ralph Null, but the club canceled its spring meetings in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sharp, who is chair of the awards committee that presents the award to the winner, simply assumed there wouldn’t be a recipient this year.
So when she arrived at the meeting, she had no idea the award ceremony was that day, much less that she was the recipient.
“I was chairman, and I didn’t know we were having it this year,” she said, as she exchanged hugs with friends and family after the ceremony. “It was a wonderful surprise.”
A resident of Columbus since she started at Mississippi State College for Women — now Mississippi University for Women — more than 60 years ago, Sharp has volunteered for organizations ranging from Columbus Junior Auxiliary Club to local soup kitchen Loaves and Fishes, said Null, who presented the award. She’s dressed up as children’s literary characters for events at the Columbus-Lowndes Public Library and has been a “master cheese seller” for Exchange Club’s annual cheese-selling fundraiser, while also serving on various boards for Exchange Club, First United Methodist Church and various garden clubs.
Moreover, Null said, she’s done all of this without having always had the happiest life. After moving to Columbus, Sharp got married and had three children. However, when she was still in her 20s, her husband was killed in a plane crash.
A few years later, she met and married a widower with four children, Null said.
“Right then and there, the Brady Bunch occurred here in Columbus,” Null said. “Seven children by 30.”
In the years since, Null said, she has buried her second husband, as well as three children, but still finds ways to serve “with a smile.”
“Through all these difficulties, she always had the ability to find that smile and share it,” he said.
Sharp married Howard at age 80 in January — “Why shouldn’t everyone get married again?” she asked — which added two more children to her family, she said.
While Sharp said she couldn’t think of what volunteer activity that she was proudest of, she did mention her years working with Camp Rising Sun, a local summer camp for children with cancer that began in 1987. Sharp began volunteering there in the 1980s, serving first as a night counselor in one of the girls’ cabins and later helping prepare the food.
She said she’s glad Camp Rising Sun has lasted as long as it has, even through this year when campers attended via Zoom. It’s always been a way for children whose lives are normally filled with hospital visits and the day-to-day grind of living with cancer to get away and just be kids for a little while, she said.
“We had lots of fun,” she said. “We had some happy times and some sad times. … I was so glad to see them have that experience.”
She said while it was “the biggest honor in the world” to receive the award, she’s always felt like she’s simply giving back to a community that’s done so much for her.
“Columbus has been so good to me through the years, and all my dear friends,” she said, “and I want to give back to the community and to my friends.”