Gazette-Journal food columnist reflects on 40 years of bylines: ‘It’s been an experience that I never would want to have missed’

By |2019-01-24T18:44:40+00:00January 24th, 2019|

Betty Day at the Mathews office of the Gazette-Journal.

Betty Day didn’t even know the significance of her byline from Jan. 10. To her, she was just putting her name on her column and filing it by her weekly deadline, the same as she’d been doing for years at the Gloucester-Mathews Gazette-Journal.

But Day’s byline on that day turned out to be a significant one. It marked her fortieth year of writing her weekly food column that she started for the paper in 1979.

“I just did not realize it had been that many years until I looked at the calendar,” Day, who manages the Matthews office of the Gazette-Journal, said over the phone. “It doesn’t seem like forty years.”

Day’s column, which has now been published more than 2,100 times, is a weekly dive into food in Gloucester and Mathews Counties. She talks with people about the food they eat, the recipes they’ve kept in their families for generations, the food festivals they attended and more. The main theme is food, plain and simple.

“It’s been fascinating,” Day said. “I have met some of the most fascinating people this world has to offer. Every interview is a different person, a different personality. It’s been an experience that I never would want to have missed.”

Day credited the longevity of the column to two universal truths she’s arrived at through her time writing: Most people are interested in food and it is one thing that almost everyone has in common. In some way or another, people are connected through the food they eat, she said.

“It’s really a human-interest story,” Day said. “It’s how they feed their family, how they feed themselves, how they cook.”

The recipes that are often reprinted from sources Day interviews are parts of that person’s history, she said. These aren’t the recipes one can find online. They are the “tried and true,” home-grown recipes that come from the stained pages of old family cookbooks and are handed down from generation to generation.

“I have met some of the most fascinating people this world has to offer. Every interview is a different person, a different personality. It’s been an experience that I never would want to have missed.”

Asked if one column stood out among the thousands that she has filed, Day said there was one that came to mind.

It was an interview for a column about a woman and her recipes and her practice of canning goods. Day, who left the interview with handfuls of the woman’s goods, said it was a standard talk by her column’s standards. They discussed food and the woman shared her with Day her recipes and practices surrounding it.

But when the column about the woman ran, a man from her neighborhood called Day and asked her if she had any clue as to how much the column about her had meant to the woman. But the woman hadn’t read the column. Her friends had read it to her because she could not read.

The man told Day that the woman was “so proud of herself for having this in the newspaper.”

“I remember that one,” Day said.

Looking back over the years, Day said she feels both lucky and fortunate to have been afforded the opportunity to write her columns for the Gazette-Journal.

“I’m not telling you there aren’t some mornings I get up and think, ‘I don’t really need to be doing this,’” Day said with a laugh. “But once I get in the office the day is perfect.”