One of Dawson County's most decorated education veterans was laid to rest last week following a tragic house fire.
Betty Jean Styles, 83, of Dawsonville, was remembered by friends, family and former students as having touched "thousands of students."
"Betty Jean Styles is the reason I'm in Dawson County," said Dawson County Board of Education Chairman Will Wade. "She recruited my mom and dad to relocate from Decatur when they were teaching in the late 70s."
Styles was born in 1931 and was a resident of Dawson County her entire life.
She was found in her home by Dawson County Emergency Services on March 28, according to Fire Chief Lanier Swafford. She was transported to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta where she died five days later.
"As long as I can remember, from my earliest memories of school to my first few years of college, she was like my grandma," Wade said. "She was a huge part of my youth. Every summer, I spent weeks on her farm and she taught me the value of work and taught me the person you should be, to teach people with fairness and respect."
Dawson County Board of Education member Elaine Wilson also remembers Styles from her own time as student and into her teaching career.
"Betty Jean Styles was my eighth grade science teacher, and she taught right across the hall from me when I first started teaching," Wilson said. "She was always willing to do whatever was needed to be done for the betterment of her students."
And it was this betterment that Wade said was a reason she constantly looked out for him.
"Their family selected me as the recipient of their Styles Family Scholarship when I was a senior in high school," Wade said. "That $4,000 was a huge help for me, getting my undergraduate degree."
Styles was a teacher at the original Dawson County High School from 1957 to 1974.
In 1975, she was promoted to administrator assistant in charge of instruction and special progress, where she stayed until 1977.
In 1984, she served as the principal of Dawson County Elementary School for a year.
She was then promoted to Assistant Curriculum Director until she retired in 1986.
"She is one of the main reasons I wanted to be a part of the Dawson County Board of Education and to help," Wade said. "She was one of my earliest supporters. I talked to her when I decided to run and she gave me a big push, telling me ‘You'd better do it!'"
Wilson said that she always saw Styles push the best from her students.
"She was a great mentor for me because she commanded respect and wanted all her students to succeed," she said. "I loved her laugh and her bright outlook on life."
It was this lesson that Wade said he remembers most from Styles.
"She taught me that every single person, every single student that we have, has untapped potential," he said. "She always believed that no child should ever be taken for granted."
Styles' funeral was held on April 1 at Bethel United Methodist Church, where she was a member. She was interred at the church's cemetery.
"Betty Jean joins a long list of Dawson County educators who will always hold a special place in my heart," Wilson said. "She epitomized what a teacher is supposed to be in and out of the classroom."