MANATEE COUNTY — If life were a piece of music, Betsy Gough played it beautifully.
On her violin, she made the joys of life sound like an upbeat capriccio and played out the darkest melodies with a sometimes somber, yet sweetly hopeful touch.
On Sept. 19, family, friends, students and colleagues gathered at Braden River High School to celebrate the life of Elizabeth “Betsy” Faye Gough, who died Sept. 12 after a battle with cancer. She was 40 years old.
Those who gathered remembered the Braden River Middle School orchestra teacher’s love for teaching and sharing her gift of music, her unending sense of optimism and her knack for making even the most unruly students savor the sound of stringed instruments.
Braden River Middle School’s eighth-grade orchestra and an orchestra comprising colleagues and current and former students filled the auditorium with sound during musical performances at the memorial service.
With tear-stained cheeks, Reagan Bock, 14, attributed her own love for the violin to the teacher who helped shape her talents.
“She pushed me to do my best even when I didn’t want to continue in orchestra (because I found out she was sick and may not be teaching),” Bock said. “She fought for me. She helped get me in orchestra class even though I hadn’t signed up.”’
When Gough was extremely sick, she still visited her classes.
“That meant so much,” Bock said. “She told us we were like her children and that she prayed for us every day. She’s an amazing person and violinist. I can’t believe she’s gone.”
Braden River High School freshman Taylor Myers, who had Gough for all three years of middle school, said Gough had been a wonderful influence in her life. Her favorite memory was when Gough announced she had started chemotherapy and may lose all her hair. Instead of losing heart, Gough told her students she’d follow in the footsteps of a friend with cancer who collected “wacky” wigs.
“Ms. Gough joked that she’d copy her and get a Marge Simpson wig,” Myers said. “We all had a laugh making suggestions for Ms Gough’s wig — a rainbow fro, an Elvis replace and so many more. I’ll never forget Ms. Gough’s face when she announced the chemo treatments, but the face I’ll always remember more is her smile while talking about crazy wigs. If there was anything non-musical to learn from Ms. Gough, it was that life is too short to live it without a smile.”
While Gough was loved and respected by students, she also was cherished by her colleagues.
“She was kind-hearted, amazing,” fellow teacher Karen Baten said. “She cared about her students more than anything. She made every student feel like they were a musician.”
Even during her illness, Gough was supportive, caring, genuine and optimistic, friends said.
“I think one of my favorite things about her was whenever we would talk on the phone, every time the (conversation would) end, Betsy told me she loved me,” said Valerie Terry, orchestra director at Haile Middle School. “Betsy always let people know how she felt.
“She was very caring,” she said. “It didn’t matter if it was her students or the people she worked with, I never heard her say anything bad about anybody.”
Fellow teachers at Braden River Middle said Gough — and her contagious optimism — was the glue that held them together during her illness.
Tom Gough, Betsy’s brother, said his sister was loving, caring, kind and the biggest supporter of her family.
“I think the biggest and best thing is she was one of the few people out there that got to pursue what she really loved to do,” Tom Gough said. “She loved teaching kids and playing music. We loved her.”
Gough’s family has set up a scholarship fund in her honor.
“We want to help her give back in a way she still can, even though she’s not here,” Tom Gough said.
And just as the orchestra players at Saturday’s memorial service held their instruments after performing — symbolically stating their song had not really ended — so Betsy Gough’s life will continue in the memory of her friends.
“We are definitely grieving, but we have wonderful memories of her,” Baten said. “She was loved by many.”
Contact Pam McTeer at email@example.com.
To contribute to the Betsy Gough Scholarship Fund, make checks payable to the Manatee Education Foundation and put Betsy Gough in the information line.
Mail checks to:
Betsy Gough Scholarship Fund
C/o Manatee Educational Foundation
P.O. Box 9069
Bradenton, FL 34206
For more information about the scholarship fund, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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