Betty Harrell Brownlee
May 3, 1929 – June 5, 2020
Betty Beatrice Harrell was born May 3,1929 in Birmingham, Alabama, the first child of
the Rev. Wade Hillman and Elizabeth Audrey (Myers) Harrell. As the daughter of a
Presbyterian minister, Betty moved from Birmingham to Port Gibson, Mississippi, and
then to Holly Springs, Mississippi. She attended Agnes Scott College in Decatur,
Georgia where she studied piano and organ. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree
with a double major in Music and in English Literature. While a student, she started her
life-long devotion as a church organist at the East Lake Methodist Church of Atlanta,
Georgia for two years. Betty married John Lawrence Brownlee, a native of Calhoun,
Georgia and a graduate of Georgia Institute of Technology on June 30,1951 in
Betty and John initially lived in Greenville, South Carolina for John’s work. John was
called to serve in the Naval Reserve and his service took them to Yorktown and Norfolk,
Virginia, and then to Panama City, Florida. The couple moved to Decatur, Alabama in
January 1955 when John accepted a job at Monsanto Corporation. Betty continued her
church music work at St. John’s Episcopal in 1959 and continued there until September
1970 serving as both Choir Director and Organist.
Betty served as the Organist at First Presbyterian Church from January 1972 until
August 2019, forty-seven years. She loved sharing her gift and was extremely humbled
and blessed to serve her church. Late in her career she often remarked that she still
experienced chills each time she accompanied the church congregation voices during
favorite hymns. Betty also taught piano lessons for 36 years.
Betty joined the Decatur Junior Service League in 1957. At one time she served as
Chairperson of the Foreign Language Committee. The committee worked with the
Decatur City School System to institute French and Spanish classes in the curriculum;
she was very proud of that accomplishment.
In addition to her amazing musical talent, she possessed a tremendous capacity to
recall and cite classical literature and poetry, and wrote many beautiful poems. She
loved gardening. She will be remembered for sharing her musical talents with so many
through her lifetime, for her strength of character, quick wit, independence, and love of
She was preceded in death by her beloved husband, John Lawrence Brownlee, her
sons Bruce Creswell Brownlee and John Harrell Brownlee.
She is survived by her daughter Amanda Brownlee Rice, son-in-law John Francis Rice,
daughters-in-law Susan Neighbors Brownlee (Bruce) and Anita Wathen Brownlee
(John), grandsons Daniel Patrick Rice (Samantha Clark Rice) and Jonathan Lawrence
Rice (Samantha Koszarek Rice), granddaughter Laurel Brownlee Roberts (Darryl Rob
Roberts), great-grandsons Mason Alexander Rice and John Jameson Rice, sister-in-law
Rita Joyce Brownlee and brother-in-law John Whisler.
Hartselle Heritage Funeral Home of Hartselle, Alabama and Thomas Funeral Home of
Calhoun, Georgia are assisting the family. A graveside service will be held Saturday,
June 13 with departure at 2 pm (Eastern time) / 1 pm (Central time) from Thomas
Funeral Home located at 535 Red Bud Rd NE, Calhoun 30701. The procession will be
led to Fain Cemetery in Calhoun. The Rev. Rosemary Rice McMahan will officiate.
Please wear a protective mask. In lieu of flowers, the family requests a donation to
Betty’s favorite charity, the Presbyterian Home for Children, PO Drawer 577, Talladega,