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Strandberg remembered as trailblazer

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Betsy Strandberg

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BY WILLIAM F. WEST
Staff Writer

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Betsy Strandberg is being remembered as a can-do person in Rocky Mount who took charge of her husband's company after his untimely death and as the first woman to serve in key local civic positions — yet also as someone who enjoyed life outside the business world.

"She was not necessarily a woman's libber, but she was in the forefront and knew what she was doing and was very confident in herself," Strandberg's brother Don Bulluck Jr. said.

Strandberg, 92, died on Jan. 10. The funeral was held on Jan. 14 at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church. She was one of the founders of St. Andrew's with her late husband, Howard Strandberg Jr.

After her husband's death in 1979, Betsy Strandberg went to work at Standard Insurance and Realty and led the board of the business until 1984.

She was the first woman to serve as chair of the Rocky Mount Area Chamber of Commerce and was the first woman to be a member of the Rocky Mount Kiwanis Club.

She served on many other boards, including of the Carolinas Gateway Partnership, which seeks to recruit new businesses and industries to the area.

Prior to her death, she was inducted into the Twin Counties Hall of Fame.

Bulluck emphasized his sister didn’t wear her civic life on her shoulders.

"She just did it because it was the thing to do," he said.

As for what propelled her to be so active in the community, he said, "It was just her nature. She took after her mother and father. They were both involved. When something needed to be done, they did it."

Bulluck, 87, was referring to Don Bulluck Sr. and Josephine Jenkins Bulluck.

Don Bulluck Sr. in 1917 became a Chevrolet dealer when he was only 18 years old. The business today is in the hands of a younger generation of Bullocks, with Don Bulluck Jr., although retired, continuing to drop by and spend time visiting at the dealership.

Bulluck also noted Josephine Bulluck was a homemaker who insisted on having honesty in the family household.

"And Betsy was absolutely honest as could be," he said.

He went on to recall Strandberg taking over Standard Insurance and Realty.

"She was raw,” he said. “She didn't know what she was doing, but she had enough sense and enough common sense to learn what to do. And she did it. She ran it for a number of years."

The business continues to be led by a Strandberg family member.

Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer David Farris had words of praise for Strandberg.

"Betsy was a trailblazer," he said.

Farris particularly noted Strandberg stepping in at Standard Insurance and Realty was unique.

Farris said although people today may not feel like a woman heading an insurance company or a business is extraordinary, 40 years ago "that was still somewhat unusual."

"And she was a pioneer by being on Peoples Bank and Trust Co.'s board of directors," he said.

Farris said he believes Strandberg was an extraordinary woman and one of the pillars of the community.

"At her time in the history of Rocky Mount, she was a player," he said. "She was a doer. She wasn't just a mover and shaker. She was a doer."

Betsy Strandberg also was a family woman whose grandchildren called her "Gran" and who enjoyed quality time in a family get together this past Christmas.

In the past, she also enjoyed quality time in Virginia Beach, Va.

Bulluck said his father and mother had a beach cottage there. He said as the Atlantic Ocean-side city grew, the structures were taken over by commercial interests.

"So we took the same piece of land the cottage was on and received two condominium units at the exact same location, but 12 stories up," he said.

He had a unit and his sister had another unit.

He also spoke of his sister enjoying going out, sitting and reading on the beach.

"It was her thing," he said.

Many may not know Strandberg also was the mother-in-law of former state House Speaker Joe Hackney.

"She was a fine lady, a fine leader — and she certainly had a great run in Rocky Mount and Nash and Edgecombe counties," said Hackney, who's presently an attorney in Chapel Hill.

Hackney also spoke of Strandberg as having been dedicated to her family and to her church and as having been both a generous and loving person.

"And she just had a great, long life. And we're all thankful for the life that she led," he said.

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