POWHATAN – The Queen is ready to hold court.
When Betsy Blandford was deciding on the theme for her upcoming year as the 2019 Christmas Mother, she heard some good suggestions, but none of them felt quite right. In the end, she fell back on something that she thought best represented her personality – Christmas Royalty.
“Everybody needs to feel as lucky as a royal would on Christmas,” she said with a grin.
The theme is a nod to a nickname that the veteran Powhatan teacher acquired when she was an instructional assistant in the local schools. One day when Blandford went to the neighboring classroom to get supplies, the teacher there joked to her students that “the Queen” had arrived.
“Paige Belcher had a wonderful sense of humor. She stopped what she was doing and said, ‘Oh look, the Queen has arrived. When the Queen comes into the room, all the princesses must curtsy,’ and she taught them how to curtsy. And she said ‘all the princes must bow,’ and she taught the boys how to bow. I think what she was doing was giving the kids a wiggle break,” Blandford said.
But the name ended up sticking with both students and staff at Powhatan Elementary School, where she was an instructional assistant in the early 1990s, and followed her to Pocahontas Elementary, where she went on to teach from 1996 to 2018. Even her late husband, Bill, and their friends adopted the moniker.
Blandford has a big personality but an even bigger heart, and that is something she will bring to the role of Christmas Mother, said Carol Baltimore, who is both a friend and served in the role of Christmas Mother alongside her husband Bob Baltimore in 2011.
“She brings an excitement with her personality and her ability to communicate with people. I just think Betsy is a lot of fun,” Carol Baltimore said. “In her classroom, she had the reputation of having a classroom that taught children by having fun. How much better can you get than that? I think that is what she is bringing to the Christmas Mother.”
Blandford was scheduled to execute her first official duty as Christmas Mother by riding in Powhatan’s annual Labor Day Parade on Monday, Sept. 2. This is typically the unveiling of the new Christmas Mother, which meant keeping it a secret for most people for months.
She laughed as she admitted it was “unbelievably hard because I like to talk.”
Blandford hasn’t really been involved in the Christmas Mother program, but as a teacher of third-graders for most of her career and second-graders in the last three years before she retired, she knows the impact the program can have on children.
What she saw as a teacher about how children are impacted by their surroundings and quality of life definitely colored how she viewed the Christmas Mother program, Blandford said.
In the school setting, if a child isn’t getting something they need that is fundamental, learning can take a back seat. For instance, if a child hasn’t had breakfast and is experiencing hunger pains in class, making sure they learn their multiplication tables isn’t a priority for them.
In the same way, she would see some of the children in her classroom become agitated as the winter break approached and talk amongst students turned to what they were getting for some Christmas. Their expectations for Christmas weren’t as high.
“I thought Christmas Mother is the great equalizer. She provides gifts for those families to be able to put something under the tree or in the house for those kids where there might not be anything. They might not be able to come back after Christmas and say, ‘Guess what I got,’” Blandford said. “And everybody should feel on Christmas morning or whenever they open a gift that there is going to be a surprise – that there is going to be something special about that day.
“One day out of the year it ought to be different. That was my mindset. If I can do anything to help some of the children of Powhatan have a better holiday season, then I am all in,” she said.
That mindset had already influenced Blandford’s choices after she retired in June 2018. In addition to spending more time with her family – she has two grown daughters and two grandchildren – she wanted to do something worthwhile with her time. As a teacher, she said she became much more aware of food insecurity, so she started volunteering with FeedMore, which she now does twice a week.
And when the Powhatan Christmas Everyday Committee reached out to her about this new role, her previous understanding of the program made her just as excited to help.
“I already know it is going to be rewarding for me. I want it to be equally as rewarding for those who come in contact with me. I would like to be as accessible as possible,” she said. “I don’t think any Christmas Mother can know ahead of time what it is going to be, but I also think each Christmas Mother does it in her own way. A lot of these ladies I have known for a long time so I am fully confident of their support and guidance.”
Blandford has such a vivacious personality as well as being organized and passionate about helping children, said Ginny Broughton, Christmas Mother 2002. The two women have known each other since Blandford was an instructional assistant in Broughton’s class, and the latter said Blandford was always “gung ho” and “willing to do what needed to be done.”
“Being such an outgoing person, I think she will do wonderful with fundraising. She is very organized too. That is a big plus because you have so many things the Christmas Mother has to do. I really believe she will do an excellent job,” Broughton said.
Baltimore concurred, saying Blandford is bringing “personality, excitement and a new boost for the next 50 years. She is really that type of person.”
Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.