Trinity member Betty Coltham and her dog, Penny, offer comfort to patients and their families in their toughest moments.
By Jenneffer Sixkiller
Mrs. Betty Coltham leads an exuberant life of service. From her early days growing up in England, her grandmother lived by shining example what it means to be a servant of God. Betty attended an historic Anglican church from birth, it was built in 1195.
She was also baptized, confirmed and married in that same church. She is honored to serve our Lord in the alter guild, chalice bearing, leading prayers, and singing in the choir. Growing up in the Wild West, it is hard for me to imagine being surrounded by such history and tradition.
Betty and her husband, Michael, have been part of Trinity Episcopal Church for over twenty years. They met while they were both in nursing school in England—she was slightly ahead of him in their class.
Her first stint at patient care was as a neighborhood midwife, traveling to women’s homes by bicycle; that was her favorite part, she says.
The Colthams have four girls and a boy, and they traveled extensively while their family was young, working around the globe. From England, they went to Australia, then to the U.S., living in Texas, Georgia, and settling in North Carolina. Throughout her life, she has continued Godly service in her roles at church, home, work, and in the community.
After retiring from nursing, she began to teach the two year old’s class at Trinity’s Preschool, along with her eldest daughter, Jane. Those busy, vibrant children found a perfect match! Betty’s desire to keep moving is fulfilled by teaching. Serving others is also a natural extension of Betty’s heart.
Nursing is a career which requires daily self-sacrifice, so it’s no surprise that she became involved with hospice patient care in 2011. Hospice provides medical care for those whose illness is unlikely to be cured, but Betty’s focus is on the practical support for the caregivers during the patient’s illness, and grief support after the death. Along with “Penny,” her service dog, Betty brings comfort to the suffering family.
“Betty Coltham originally started volunteering in 2011. She received the Presidential Gold Award for volunteers this past March at our Annual Business and Volunteer Appreciation Banquet. This award is given to the volunteer once they have given 500 plus hours. Betty visits Gordon Hospice House with her pet therapy dog ‘Penny’ two-four times every week. Betty and Penny walk around Gordon Hospice House offering visits to our patients and their families. She is a very dedicated volunteer and we feel blessed that she is a part of our organization,” says Barbara Martin, coordinator of Volunteer Services for Hospice & Palliative Care of Iredell County. Betty also visits seven nursing homes a month, including an Alzheimer’s’ unit in Taylorsville. Volunteering in her immediate community is admirable, but traveling such great distances shows real sacrifice.
‘Penny,’ Mrs. Coltham’s service dog, is also treated with the utmost care and devotion. To qualify as a registered International Therapy Dog, there are several requirements; her physical fitness must be maintained, she must be gentle, and not jump or bark at sudden noises. Her handler must also be of good character; of this, we can be sure. Another of her accomplishments is also being an American Kennel Club Grand Champion runner-up. She only needs two more points to achieve this honor. Just like Betty, God loves all his beings. In Job chapter 12, God reminds us that animals know His works, that we can learn from them. He also provides for every creature, and in Psalm 104 we are commanded to look after them. Betty’s devotion to ‘Penny’ reflects her obedience and sensitivity to all God’s creatures.
Mrs. Coltham’s legacy is inspiring. Her energy and enthusiasm for service renews my own devotion, and helps open my eyes to see where else I can be of assistance, in compassionate gratitude.