Bettye Joyce Watson Lighty, former head teacher at the Ivy Leaf School and deacon, died on Thursday, May 14, 2020, due to dementia-related complications. She was 77.
“My mother was a giver,” said daughter Kia Baker. “She gave selflessly. She had a peaceful quality about her. Whenever someone needed something, she was always there. Her heart was always with people in need.”
She was born on Sept. 29, 1942, in Loris, South Carolina, in the Finklea community to the late Joe Lewis Watson and Cora Carter Watson. She started her religious training at the family’s home and in Silent Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Finklea.
Growing up, Lighty enjoyed the camaraderie of her six siblings and considered them her best friends. After their mother died when Lighty was 8 years old, she took on the mothering role to her sisters.
She graduated from Finklea High School in 1959 and later attended Morris College in Sunter, South Carolina. She received a bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 1965.
She taught for a few years in South Carolina before moving to Philadelphia. After settling in Philadelphia, she taught briefly at the Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School in the Tioga section.
She later received an opportunity to teach at the first Black private school in Philadelphia, Ivy Leaf School. The Ivy Leaf School became the oldest African-American school in Philadelphia and the largest in the nation.
For many years, Lighty was the head teacher for the lower grades. After more than 30 years, she retired at the school’s closing in June 2008.
“My mom taught pre-k and kindergarten at the Ivy League School for a number of years,” Baker said. “She loved interacting with her students and their parents.”
She married Luther Lighty Jr. in 1982. She later joined Christian Love Baptist Church, now known as the Christian Love Worship Cathedral, and became active in many ministries.
She was a member and leader of the Christian Education Department, the ushers and the pastor’s support ministry. She was ordained as a deacon in 2003 and became chair of the Deacon Board.
“My mother loved people,” Baker said. “When people came to church, whether it was through visiting or to join, she would always reach out to them. She always wanted to make sure that people were OK. She would call and check on current and former members.
“She held her position well as a deacon and led her ministry colleagues,” she added. “They were very dear to her heart. She made sure that they were taking their classes and that they were up on the ministerial studies. She wanted to make sure that they too would be able to properly minister to someone else.”
Lighty enjoyed spending time with her family. She presided over many family reunion celebrations for the Watsons and the Carters.
She collected money for dues and T-shirts, made sure the state park reservations were made, cooked and served food, and ensured that meeting notes were correct and that family members were accounted for. She was also instrumental in ensuring that the legacy of Joe Watson continued to live on.
“Some of my fondest memories of my mom always involved family,” Baker said. “Every summer we would go down to Horry County in South Carolina, where she was from, and we would be with cousins, aunts and uncles. We would hang out together on the farm.”
She was preceded in death by: her husband, Luther Lighty Jr., and sister, Jacquelyn Carter-Watson.
She is survived by: children, Cordelia Simmons, Luther Lighty III (Krystal), Kia Baker (Keith); siblings, Billy Watson (Norma), Carolyn Gause (Douglas), Carrie Williams, Gloria Pazi and Myrtle Livingston; grandchildren, Michele, Chaunti, Keith Jr., Keyana, Luther IV and Nia; great-grandchildren, Jaden, Ke’aire, Zaria and Nabria; aunt, Mildred Bowman; uncle, Van Carter; and other relatives and friends.