Betty Heiby has been part of the Ready Hands “family” for over 11 years. Her wonderful aide, Maggie, has been with us almost as long. To visit Mrs. Heiby’s home in the Bush Hill Woods neighborhood of Alexandria is to appreciate one of her life-long passions: art. Her walls are hung with wonderful paintings, sketches and prints, most of them done by her own hand.
Mrs. Heiby was born and raised in New Orleans. She and her two sisters were all delivered at home by a family doctor, which was commonplace at that time. Growing up, Betty loved exploring the city. The streetcar stop was three blocks from her house and for seven cents she could get a ride into town. She enjoyed visiting the French Quarter with her father on his Saturday afternoons off of work, or sitting by the levee and gazing at the ships on the Mississippi.
During World War II, Mrs. Heiby went to work for the War Department in a non-air-conditioned temporary building which she even now remembers for its insufferable heat. After the war she took a job with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). She met her future husband during her time there, and in 1950 the couple married. Almost immediately afterwards they drove to the D.C. area in his new Studebaker and took federal government jobs in the area—in her case still with the USDA.
The Heibys’ first home was an apartment on South Washington Street, which she remembers as being very noisy. After five years, they were able to purchase a house in the newly-built Rose Hill subdivision. The house, which was built on a slab and featured three bedrooms and one and a half baths, had a $13,500 price tag. As children came, Mrs. Heiby resigned from her job and for the next 17 years concentrated on raising her family. In around 1968 the Heibys built the Alexandria house where she currently resides. Later, with the children grown, she again went to work for the federal government and finally retired after a total of 35 years of service.
Mrs. Heiby’s husband, sadly, began to exhibit signs of Parkinson’s disease around the early 1980’s. As he slowly progressed over the years, he became increasingly dependent. Mrs. Heiby continued to care for him at home, with time engaging the assistance of paid caregivers. In 2002 he passed away at home. His ashes lie in rest at Alexandria’s Presbyterian Cemetery.
During her earlier hiatus from work, Mrs. Heiby had experienced a renewed enthusiasm for drawing and painting. She recalls her mother encouraging her to draw as early as age 10. In school, her grades in art classes were her highest, and the awards she remembers receiving in high school were in that subject. Now, as an adult, she began taking classes at the YWCA and at Northern Virginia Community College, also studying with private teachers. Her work over the years has spanned several mediums, including sketches, watercolors and oils, and ranges from abstract to representational.
Showcased on the walls of her home are wonderful still life paintings, beautiful landscapes, architectural depictions and more. Two of her works are displayed at the Ready Hands Home Care office, the gifts of a kind and generous client. Stored in a large artist’s portfolio and various folders and sketchbooks in her home are innumerable studies and sketches.
Evident in Mrs. Heiby’s body of work is a special connection with Alexandria’s Old Presbyterian Meeting House, the 250+ year-old congregation where she has been a member for many years. Gracing the cover of the church’s Sunday Bulletin is a sketch of the building which she produced many years ago. Several other portrayals of the church are displayed in her home.
Her depictions of foods and food preparation have also been featured in a cookbook produced by the church.
The works that no doubt hold special meaning for Mrs. Heiby, however, are her depictions of old New Orleans, the city where she grew up, explored the French Quarter, rode the street cars and met her husband.
This article appears in the Winter-Spring 2015 edition of our occasional newsletter, News for Clients and Friends.