Betsy Guyer was remarkable. That’s how I remember her. She filled in where others could not, and filled those niches with spectacular radiance. Betsy Guyer and her husband Dr. John Guyer were Presbyterian Church (USA) missionaries in Chiang Mai as the Church of Christ in Thailand re-established and expanded educational and medical work in Thailand after World War II.
When I arrived in Chiang Mai as a young missionary recruit in 1965 Betsy was one of the missionaries who nudged me into the places I was needed. I describe it this way: in addition to my two main assignments, teaching English in the Thailand Theological Seminary and learning spoken Thai at the Chiang Mai branch of the Union Language School, I became a classroom teacher of high school students at The Prince Royal’s College (PRC), a Cub Scout leader, a presenter at the Chiangmai Co-educational Center (CCC, now called Chiang Mai International School), a teacher of reading English at the McCormick School of Nursing and Midwifery, and a co-pastor (with John Butt) of the Chiang Mai Community Church. Betsy Guyer was behind each of those opportunities in one way or another. That is just part of the range of her endeavors. She was influential in countless ways.
Betsy’s main role, as I remember from those days, was as a teacher of physical sciences at PRC including providing laboratories with supplies and equipment so students would actually become enthusiastic about science from hands-on experience. She also undertook formation of a marching band. I think it was the first marching band in Chiang Mai. To do this she not only had to recruit and train band members, she had to round up all the musical instruments mostly from overseas – and then help replace them after a fire wiped out the entire collection. This accomplishment came into perspective for me when I attended a graduation recital for two students of a program to train music teachers and one of the graduates struggled through a one-finger version of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”. Meanwhile, Betsy’s PRC students were performing music by John Philip Sousa because she had taught them how to play every instrument and how to read music.
While she was at this, Betsy served as chair of the CCC committee, recruiting teachers, expanding facilities built for other purposes, and guiding the direction of CCC with the international community just beginning to expand and the Thai government just beginning to suppress international schools, before reversing that policy a decade later.
Betsy was one who took on the really tough roles. Those roles were hardly ever “out front”. It was never clearer to me than her teaching of nurses. Imagine, if you will, the course that would be hardest to fill. That’s the one Betsy taught, human anatomy, with real cadavers (respectfully called “Ajan Yai”—“Head Teacher”). The whole concept was so loaded with superstition and terror that the idea there was such a course and where it was taught was treated as a secret. It boggles the mind to think of the obstacles she had to overcome in those days to obtain a cadaver every year, to get it prepared for dissection by students, to get the students beyond their fear and revulsion into a learning mode, and then to deal with “Ajan Yai’s” remains, step by step.
All the while, Betsy was a steadfast member of two church congregations. She and the family attended First Thai Church of Chiang Mai on Sunday mornings and Chiang Mai Community Church in the evening before going to supper at Sutinan’s restaurant beside the railway station. She hardly ever missed the missionary fellowship’s weekly Bible studies; refreshments (I remember hot muffins) were great when it was her turn to be host. Both she and John were elected elders of First Church and Community Church.
I believe we all thought of Betsy as a strong and effective leader and matron, but I think that she thought of herself as a colleague who simply took her turn and filled needs. She was the kind of person who glistened – she seemed to reflect light collected from beyond in such stunning ways that anyone who didn’t try hard to focus on her might have missed her presence and never realized how dull things would have been without her crystalline core behind the radiance.
We have received word that Betsy Guyer died on January 22, 2018 after long decline due to geriatric illnesses. She was preceded in death less than a month ago by her husband, Dr. John Guyer. Again we express our prayers and share sorrow with Janet Guyer and her brother Jim Guyer and his family.
See my tribute to John by clicking on this link: http://www.kendobson.asia/blog/john-guyer. Thanks to Janet and William J Yoder for locating the pictures of Betsy and John, and Betsy with her early band.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.