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A Life: Betsy Taylor Foster, 1923-2012; 'She Had a High Sense of History'

  • Betsy Taylor Foster poses as a model in Boston, circa 1939. Foster competed in the Miss America pageant in 1941, raised five children and worked in the Pentagon and Federal Aviation Administration. (Photograph courtesy Gene Foster)

    Betsy Taylor Foster poses as a model in Boston, circa 1939. Foster competed in the Miss America pageant in 1941, raised five children and worked in the Pentagon and Federal Aviation Administration. (Photograph courtesy Gene Foster)

  • Betsy Taylor Foster in a publicity photograph for the 1941 Miss America pageant. (Photograph courtesy Gene Foster)

    Betsy Taylor Foster in a publicity photograph for the 1941 Miss America pageant. (Photograph courtesy Gene Foster)

  • President Barack Obama is officially sworn-in by Chief Justice John Roberts in the Blue Room of the White House during the 57th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013. Next to Obama are first lady Michelle Obama, holding the Robinson Family Bible, and daughters Malia and Sasha. (AP Photo/Larry Downing, Pool)

    President Barack Obama is officially sworn-in by Chief Justice John Roberts in the Blue Room of the White House during the 57th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013. Next to Obama are first lady Michelle Obama, holding the Robinson Family Bible, and daughters Malia and Sasha. (AP Photo/Larry Downing, Pool)

  • Betsy Taylor Foster poses as a model in Boston, circa 1939. Foster competed in the Miss America pageant in 1941, raised five children and worked in the Pentagon and Federal Aviation Administration. (Photograph courtesy Gene Foster)
  • Betsy Taylor Foster in a publicity photograph for the 1941 Miss America pageant. (Photograph courtesy Gene Foster)
  • President Barack Obama is officially sworn-in by Chief Justice John Roberts in the Blue Room of the White House during the 57th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013. Next to Obama are first lady Michelle Obama, holding the Robinson Family Bible, and daughters Malia and Sasha. (AP Photo/Larry Downing, Pool)

Vershire — Betsy Taylor Foster didn’t look like the type of person who would smuggle suspicious material onto airplanes.

But during her time as an Federal Aviation Administration employee in the late 1980s and early 1990s in Chicago, she was great at it.

At the FAA, agents would often try to board planes with smuggled material to test airport security, but after a time the agents became known to O’Hare officials, said Foster’s son, Donald Foster.

That’s where Betsy Taylor Foster came in. A former model, she looked unassuming and apparently airport security officials felt the same way.

“She managed to get on every plane they put her on without getting challenged,” Donald Foster, of Massachusetts, said. “She was the most successful they had.”

Betsy Taylor Foster died on Dec. 31 at age 89, leaving her grown children to put together pieces of a modeling career she seldom talked about.

“She had quite a career modeling, beauty pageant-wise, but she never shared that with anyone,” Donald Foster said.

Foster was born in Vershire, in an area known as Taylor Valley, her son Gene Taylor said. The second youngest of five Taylor sisters, she grew up in the area where her father, Efford Taylor, and her uncle Fred Taylor owned substantial plots of land.

“They were inseparable, all of them,” Gene Foster, of Florida, said. “They were semi-famous in the area as being women who got into everything wherever they were at.”

After her father died in the early 1940s, the family relocated to Boston where Foster’s modeling career began.

“She was always the kindest to me of all my sisters,” said Nancy Taylor, Foster’s youngest and only surviving sister. “She was the easiest one for my mother to raise.”

Living in Boston, Foster went into modeling when she was 17 after someone suggested it, Taylor said. Initially, she had to lie to the modeling agency about her age, saying she was in her 20s in order to participate with her older sister, Marian. She mostly modeled clothing, including for Jordan Marsh, a now-closed department store, Gene Foster said. Later in life, the two sisters shared a home together outside of Washington, where they both held government jobs.

She went on to hold titles such as “Miss New England” and “Miss Photogenic.”

“She probably had about a dozen titles of some sort,” Gene Foster said.

But her biggest modeling accomplishment was winning “Miss Massachusetts,” in 1941 and going on to compete in the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, N.J., Taylor said.

Her title lead her to an appearance in the Sept. 15, 1941 issue of Life magazine, lined up along contestants from the other states.

“In those days it was a big thing,” said Taylor, remembering the free clothes her sister used to receive and an appearance she made in Yankee magazine.

Then World War II struck and her goals shifted.

“It changed everything,” Gene Foster said. “That changed a lot of direction at the time. It changed a lot of opportunities for her.”

“Miss Massachusetts” was the last crown she held. She appeared in war bond drive events to raise money for the war effort, Donald Foster said.

“She was an extraordinarily patriotic woman,” he said. “That was her contribution to the war effort.”

In 1942, she married, S. Donald Foster, a sergeant in the army, and ended her modeling career to raise her children. Her and her husband settled in Tunbridge where she began to raise her family of five children, her modeling career forgotten.

“She was really a kind of close person,” Gene Foster said. “She didn’t like to boast about things. She was very successful about what she did.”

It was only later on, after they became grown, that Foster’s children realized the extent of her modeling career. Recently, Gene Foster did a Google search for his mother’s obituary and stumbled upon an ebay auction that was selling Boston Press Association pictures of Foster.

“She didn’t do a lot of talking about herself,” Gene Foster said.

Foster held different government jobs, like her sisters. Her favorite job, Donald Foster said, was working at the Pentagon in army intelligence at the later end of the Vietnam War, receiving high security clearance.

“She thought she was really contributing something to the country,” Donald Foster said.

She took her high security clearance very seriously and her children were unsure of what her role was there.

“She would not tell us what she was doing there,” Gene Foster said, though he believes it was an administrative job of some sort.

“She was very devoted to the officers she worked with,” Donald Foster said. “She was very devoted to the job.”

Her patriotism was something she impressed upon her children as they grew up. All of her sons joined the military in some capacity.

“She always kind of impressed upon us loyalty, working hard, sticking to things,” Gene Foster said. “Things she considered to be old American values. Work hard and get your reward.”

In her retirement, she researched the genealogy of her family, an interest first introduced to her by her Uncle Fred.

“He had written quite extensively on genealogy and she caught the bug from him,” Gene Foster said.

She could trace the Taylor family back to the pilgrims, including William Brewster and Stephen Hopkins.

“She was quite proud of that,” Gene Foster said. “She had a high sense of history, not only of the family, but of the location you were in.”

Another of her hobbies was reading, Donald Foster said, and she was very attached to her favorite book, Gone With the Wind.

Whenever the movie was on TV, she’d be very excited to watch it and her son described her attachment as a “love affair” with the book and movie.

“It was kind of cute,” Donald Foster said.

Foster lived in Massachusetts for a time to be near her family, before spending her final years at Valley Terrace.

“Vermont was her absolute favorite place in the world,” Donald Foster said. “She loved the country, the scenery, the people.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com.