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Yes, a man can live to be 98 years old, but not often carrying the same convictions and approaches to life he held in elementary school.
Funny thing about goals. Betty Branch wanted to have 12 children, but stopped at eight. She wanted to be a counselor, but wound up as a noted sculptor. She prefers artists’ smocks, but found herself the cover girl for the May/June, 1977, Roanoker magazine Best Dressed list.
The dozen kids were a 15-year-old’s vision and the eight were the reality at the age of about 40. She wanted preachers (boys) and missionaries (girls). Art over counseling came on the realization of “what would make me happier when I’m 90: making art, rather than dealing with people’s problems.” She’s 81 now. And the Best Dressed list? “I wouldn’t be there today.”
But she would likely be on the list of those who have had the most fulfilling and rewarding family lives and careers. Of her kids—all middle aged and older now—she says, “It’s interesting to see the diverse directions—and some the same directions—they have gone.” They range from actors and students to political and environmental activists to business owners. Each is successful in the way individuals define success.
Branch, who eventually became one of Roanoke’s most honored and noted artists (and certainly its most celebrated sculptor), didn’t really begin her career until after her youngest, Bonny (an actor, student and yoga maven), was a baby. In her mid-40s, Betty Branch went to Hollins University for a short term in the Bahamas to study clay and weaving, returned to Roanoke and enrolled again at Hollins, taking “every art course available.”
Her career built slowly. “It’s been a wonderful thing, a life-sustaining and fulfilling” career, she says. She could support herself with the income from it now (and for the last number of years), but “I had support all along” and was able to live comfortably and make the kind of art that she preferred. (She is married to Bill Branch, who co-founded a construction company in 1955 with Claude McAlister, and reorganized it in 1963 as Branch & Associates with Bill as the owner. Bill retired in 1993 and the Branch Group now has five divisions and is one of the major players in this region in its industry.) Her sculpture, she says, would always have brought in an income, but “it depends on how well you want to live.”