For the past few decades, anyone from Calhoun and surrounding counties who ever spotted an injured fawn, an eagle with a broken wing or any wild critter in need of some TLC, likely thought of one person to call: Betsy Knight. This mother of four devoted her life to caring for wounded wildlife in a way that only she could.
At the age of 73, Betsy Knight passed Friday morning.
Over the last few months, she has been weak, lately struggling with her breathing. The day before she died, her family learned she had cancer. According to her son, Clay, an autopsy revealed it was an aggressive form.
“Betsy Knight fought off more than one illness in her life, but I am afraid that she lost the battle this time,” longtime friend Terry Morse remarked. Morse serves with the Big Bend Wildlife Sanctuary, an organization founded by Betsy and based at her Altha home. “Betsy Knight had a beautiful soul and dedicated her life to conservation and wildlife. She loved the outdoors and some of you may not know that every year in March she would go kayaking with friends and some of her grandchildren. She raised and rehabilitated many native animals during her years as the director of Big Bend Wildlife Sanctuary. From all the stories I have heard, I don't think there is a species she hadn't cared for at one time or another.”
Morse went on to say, “If Betsy had to pick one accomplishment though, I think she would say she was most proud of the success she had with Florida black bears. She has raised or rehabilitated over 40 bears and returned them all back to the wild, even though she was told it couldn't be done. Few people told her no and, if they did, it only made her will to prove them wrong all the stronger.”
Children from all over Northwest Florida knew Miss Betsy and loved to see her at festivals and events with her birds in hand, teaching the younger generation about protecting wildlife. When soldiers returned from Iraq a few years back, Betsy led the parade through Jackson County with a majestic bald eagle, symbolizing the reason the men and women who served were away. She lived simply, carrying a smile, a warm embrace and love for every creature.
“I will miss Betsy's stories and her wealth of knowledge,” Morse noted. “I hope I can continue her legacy with wildlife as many others are already doing. Betsy knew more about the natural history of each animal than I could ever hope to know. But, mostly, I will miss Betsy.”
Betsy was laid to rest in Orlando. A memorial service was held in Blountstown on Tuesday.