BRANDON — If you went to elementary school in the Brandon area in the 1980s or '90s, there's a good chance you knew Betty Chapman.
She loved to teach, and she loved children. Youngsters who encountered her in the early part of her career knew her as Mrs. Chapman, the substitute teacher. Those who came across her later knew her simply as "the Flag Lady."
For many years, Mrs. Chapman combined her passion for teaching and her intense patriotism into a second, unpaid career. Dressed in colonial garb, she would visit classrooms in the Brandon area and teach kids about the significance, the history and the lore of the American flag. She explained the meaning of the colors, of the stars and of the stripes, about how to care for the flag, about Betsy Ross and the Star-Spangled Banner.
The Flag Lady of Brandon passed away of natural causes on April 17. She was 83 and had been in declining health for a couple of months.
She was born and raised in Georgia, and moved to Florida with her husband, Charles, in the early 1960s. Her husband worked in Tampa, but the semi-rural town of Brandon suited the couple's taste more than the big city.
She was a stay-at-home mother to her son and daughter. It was work she cherished.
"I can certainly say I had a great childhood," her son, Don, said. "She was a disciplinarian but she was very, very fair. I wasn't blessed with being given everything I wanted. I had to earn it. She taught us well."
Once the kids had grown, she attended college for the first time in her life. She was already middle-aged, but she always loved learning.
She probably had no intention of studying her way into a career, her son said, but she ended up getting a degree in education, and started substitute teaching in Brandon-area schools.
"She loved it," Don Chapman said. "She loved spending time with the kids, and it gave her a sense of value to be able to share her knowledge with them."
She had become active in the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and that seemed to stoke her already intense patriotic bent.
Finally, she decided to give up substituting and just donate her time to the kids of the Brandon area and share with them her passion for America and its flag.
At first she called her old friends at various schools to offer her services.
"But pretty soon, they were calling her," her son said.
A couple of falls, and a couple of broken hips, made it difficult for Mrs. Chapman to get around, so she gave up her volunteer work in the school more than 10 years ago, her son said.
But as recently as 2007 she was invited to take part in a Flag Day ceremony in Temple Terrace to respectfully dispose of dozens of American flags that had become frayed and faded.
Besides her son, Mrs. Chapman is survived by her daughter, Linda Carol Chapman Keller, five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. A memorial service will be conducted at 10:30 a.m. May 12 at Serenity Memorial Funeral Home, 6919 Providence Road in Riverview.
Marty Clear writes life stories about area residents who have recently passed away. He can be reached at [email protected]