Betty Mae Vickery, a retired state worker who sang for and entertained homesick troops shipping out to World War II, died July 9 of age-related causes, her family said. She was 90.
Born Sept. 8, 1922, in Holstein, Iowa, the former Betty Mae Watts showed early promise in music. She won a local singing contest as a young girl and excelled in voice and piano in high school. After graduation, she studied music in Chicago and trained as a coloratura with Metropolitan Opera star soprano Lily Pons.
During World War II, she joined a female quartet, the Rythemettes, and toured the Midwest for the USO. She recalled how show organizers always gave the women new shoes that looked stylish on stage but contributed to foot problems in later years.
But she didn't complain. She was proud to serve her country and enjoyed lifting the spirits of young men who were away from their families and friends many for the first time. Years later, she recalled how melancholy soldiers often crowded the edge of the stage when the quartet sang songs about home.
"She teared up when she talked about how these guys were leaving the next day for World War II," said her son Kirby.
Mrs. Vickery gave up performing after meeting a Merchant Marine from Iowa, Dwight Vickery. They married and moved to Long Beach, where she worked as a telephone operator before giving birth to the first of three sons. The family moved to Seattle, where her husband drove a Greyhound bus, and settled in Sacramento in 1964.
The marriage ended in divorce, leaving Mrs. Vickery a single mother with no income. She went back to work at 48 and spent 20 years as a phone operator for the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Meanwhile, she supported her children's interest in music. She drew on her early training to help one of her sons learn to play the drums. She encouraged another son who played piano and trombone, and she attended her youngest son's performances with the Sacramento Choral Society.
Mrs. Vickery had fond memories of her early singing career but no regrets about giving it up to have a family, her son Kirby said. A devout woman, she enjoyed singing in church and made sure all of her sons became Christians. She took history classes at Sacramento City College and was a diehard Sacramento Kings and Oakland Raiders fan.
She was related to another Iowa native and singer, Andy Williams. Years ago, she took her mother, who was close to Williams, to see him perform at Lake Tahoe.
"They were distant cousins," her son said of his mother and Williams, who died last year. "She said he got to Branson (Mo.) early and bought up some properties there before it got developed and did very well."
Mrs. Vickery was predeceased by a son, Corey, in 2002. She is survived by two sons, Kirby of Mather and Darby of West Sacramento; seven grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren. No service is planned.
Call The Bee's Robert D. Dávila, (916) 321-1077. Follow him on Twitter @bob_davila.