July 10, 1928 ~ January 12, 2021

Born in: Cleveland, OH
Resided in: Asheville, NC

We mourn the death and celebrate the life of Betty Jane Sisk Swain, who died of Covid-19 on January 12, 2021, at Givens Estates, Asheville, NC. Betty was born in Cleveland, OH on July 10, 1928, and is predeceased by her husband, David Lowry Swain, her parents, James Luther Sisk, Sr., and Flora Clyde Warner Sisk, two of her brothers, James Luther Sisk, Jr., and Robert Victor Sisk, brother-in-law William Alexander Swain III, sister-in-law Barbara Harper Swain, as well as her sister-in-law Barbara Jean Sisk, who passed just a few weeks prior in the same residence. Betty deeply missed these family members, and we hope she is with them again.

A lifelong learner, Betty attended Lee H. Edwards High School (‘45), Mars Hill College (‘47), and Greensboro College (‘49). She married David in 1949 and moved to Chapel Hill where David became Director of the Wesley Foundation. In 1953, after a year of language study together at Yale University, Betty, David and baby daughter Lillian Roberta (Bobbie) embarked on the adventure of a lifetime as they set sail aboard the SS President Wilson to become missionaries to Japan.

Thereafter ensued 40 years of service to the Japanese people and the international community. The work of Betty’s lifetime spanned many efforts, including early years with the World Student Christian Federation, later as a field representative for the United Methodist Church, on the board of the American School in Japan, and assisting women caught in sex trafficking rings at the HELP Asian Women’s Shelter. In support of Korean Christians working toward democracy Betty traveled to South Korea to bring hope and relief to Christian political prisoners engaged in a hunger strike against the oppressive military dictatorship. Always a trusted partner, Betty supported husband David in his work as an author, translator and editor of many books and articles with an extra read-through or a suggested edit.

Betty simultaneously raised five children, bringing joy, love, good food and fun traditions to our home while juggling the two vastly different traditions of East and West, and gaining a deep appreciation of Japanese arts and culture.

Betty particularly delighted in her rich circle of colleagues and friends in Japan, and spoke of them often in her retirement years, remembering with joy and laughter the fellowship and fun of the annual Japan Women’s Conference, decades of summers at the family mountain cabin in Nojiri (where she taught swimming, appeared in many dramas, won golf tournaments, and led square dances), membership in Tokyo Union Church and later West Tokyo Union Church, her beloved LUCID book group, and her special circle of Japanese women friends. Oh, how she loved these years, and these friends!

In 1993, Betty and David returned to their roots in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina, first living at Lake Junaluska, then moving in 2008 to Givens Estates in Asheville. Betty delighted many with short essays on her life experiences, and thoroughly enjoyed her Givens community, particularly her friendship with sisters-in-law Nancy Sisk and Barbara Sisk, as well as Dorcas Zook, JC & Margo McGee, and many others.

In her later years, Betty often marveled at the incredible life she felt she had led, reflecting on the rich journey this southern girl from humble origins enjoyed, full of blessings, travel and engagement with family, friends and colleagues around the world. She was honestly amazed at her life; we were amazed by her.

Her survivors include her children, Lillian Roberta, Tokyo, Japan; John Edward (Alice Bowie Maring), Tavares, FL; Paul Frederic, Norfolk, VA; Anna Frances (Martin), Asheville, NC; Dinah Lee, St. Paul, MN; brother Kenneth Sisk (Catharine), Greensboro, NC; sister-in-law Nancy Sisk, Asheville, NC; sister-in-law Sally Mull (Vernon), Greensboro, NC; brother-in-law Joe O. Swain, Chapel Hill, NC; sister-in-law Molly M. Swain, Oneonta, NY; seven grandchildren (Abraham Emmanual Levin, Jonathan David Levin, Hillary Diana LeBeau, Ella Frances Swain, Claudia Marie Swain, Delilah Jane Schuster, and Carolina Swain Schuster) and three great grandchildren (Ezekiel David Levin, Amy Jane Levin, and Sara Betty Levin) as well as many nieces and nephews.

We will hold a service of Thanksgiving and Remembrance on Saturday, September 25, 2021, at 2 pm, at the Pulliam Chapel at Givens Estates, with a small reception immediately following. Recognizing that the pandemic continues, a change in plans is possible; if you’d like to be updated on any changes, please send a note to daughter Dinah (dinahswain@gmail.com). Similarly, condolences to the family may be sent to us care of Dinah Swain, 1389 Bayard Avenue, St Paul, MN, 55116.

Our family is grateful for the many people who were a part of her and our lives, and for the love expressed these past few months. We are especially grateful for the staff at Givens who cared for our mother in her final days when we could not, due to Covid restrictions.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to a fund created to help staff during difficult times. If so inclined, please send a check payable to “Givens Staff Assistance Fund,” Betty Swain in the memo line, to the Givens Development Office at 2360 Sweeten Creek Rd., Asheville, NC 28803. Alternatively, you may donate online at www.givenscommunities.org/give-online and choose the designation “Team Member Assistance Ministry” from the drop-down menu and indicate that it is a Tribute gift in memory of Betty Swain.


Celebration of Life: September 25, 2021 2:00 pm

Givens Estates, Norma Pulliam Chapel
100 Wesley Drive
Asheville, NC 28803



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