The Mountain Times

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Life of Betty Merrill celebrated

The Killington community gathered with family and friends of the late Betty Cady Merrill to celebrate the life of the spirited lady who was known as the "Voice of Killington."

Merrill, who passed away in January after a brief illness, was remembered for her years of service to the Killington Ski Resort by many who recalled her snow reports, 40 years at the switchboard, loyalty, dedication, and ready sense of humor.

Beverly Anderson, pastor of the Sherburne United Church of Christ, led the service of remembrance and celebration. She noted that Betty Cady and Harold Merrill were the first couple to be married at the church in 1943 and that when he died in 1964, she was a widow with five children to raise. That eventually led to her being employed "to roll posters for a few days" at Killington and a career there, which included becoming "the first woman to do snow reports" on radio, begun. "People would stop by just to meet the beautiful voice," Anderson noted.

Describing her dedication to her job and penchant for punctuality, Anderson related that when Betty fell one morning and broke her ankle, she told her daughter to drive her to the resort so she could record the snow report. Wisely, Melanie had refused and got her the medical attention needed, Anderson added.

Anderson also noted that Betty and Norma Biathrow, who had hired her to roll posters, had become "best friends, travelled together, and gambled in Vegas. She became Aunt Betty to Norma's children," she said of a relationship that even included wallpapering together. "Every time they hung a strip, they drank another Black Russian," she related, introducing a note of levity that was to repeat in the guests' stories that followed.

Tyna Baird Gallagher, who worked with Merrill for 17 years, noted how stressful the switchboard job was. Due to handling a high volume of calls, which could reach thousands a day, she insisted on the simple greeting of 'Killington.' "It drove [former President ] Hank Lunde crazy because he wanted her to say more," Gallagher noted. [It wasn't until Killington had changed owners that her greeting transitioned to 'Killington Pico Ski Resort.']

One worker told the story of a person who claimed that they had been promised a discount on a lift ticket from Chandler Foster. Sent to the administrative offices, he first had to get by Merrill, who politely told him, "We don't have anyone by the name of Chandler Foster." That the guest paid full price for his ticket drew appreciative laughter from those who knew both Merrill and Killington policy.

Martel Wilson, a former Killington vice president, noted that despite disguising his voice, Merrill always said "Yes Marty" whenever he asked to be put through to someone. Frustrated that he couldn't fool her, he told of learning "a little German" and asking if the president was in. Merrill replied, 'Yes, Sir.' Asking if it would be possible to speak to him, Merrill replied "Yes, sir. I'll put you right through, Marty."

Foster Chandler, former vice president and director of marketing, added that while she was known as the "Voice of Killington" for faithfully giving the snow reports and answering the resort's phone lines at the switchboard in the days before the Internet, she also was the greeter of all guests to the administration offices.

She was a frontline representative of the ski area, he noted, saying that she handled all kinds of situations from complaints (not satisfied at customer service) to airplane crashes to bomb scares. "She represented Killington to the public… she was ubiquitous and that's how she got the Voice of Killington" moniker, he said.

She was a "gracious, classy lady," Chandler added, noting "With Betty, every day was a sunny day even if was raining out" and that he misses her.

Among the many photographs on display, including a collage of Merrill playing Mrs. Santa Claus at company parties, were newspaper articles, Merrill's army-base admission card which gave a clue to her eventual career, and letters of congratulations for an award she received.

Merrill's unflappability at handling a high volume of calls actually began at age 20 when she worked her first job answering phones at an army air base in Chatham, Georgia where Harold had been stationed. When he was sent overseas, she returned to her family's home in New London, Connecticut and worked at the Groton naval submarine base call center. 

In an newspaper interview, Merrill had described phone calls that included military personnel and "anxious family members wondering about how their soldiers were doing. It was World War II and a time of great stress and pressure," but Merrill had indicated that she liked "a job that required one to work hard under pressure."

Merrill's contribution to the ski area earned her recognition from the Vermont Ski Areas Association, which bestowed an award on her in 1988 as an employee who had "grown with and contributed to Vermont's ski industry." Governor Madeleine Kunin sent her a letter of congratulations, as did the resort's founder Preston Smith. He praised her "total dedication to Killington," saying "your unwavering dedication as well as your friendliness with every staff person at Killington, has, I am sure, led other people to greater dedication as well. That positive approach every day cannot help but rub off on others," he wrote.

The service concluded with guests joining in the 23Rd Psalm and Billy Wiles stirring a-cappella rendition of Amazing Grace.
The service of remembrance was a true celebration of the spirited woman who always had a warm smile, a kind word, and sincere helpfulness in a voice that won't soon be forgotten.

Photo by Karen D. Lorentz