Betty Ragland is known as the Poodle Lady.
It is painted across the back windshield of her Chrysler Pacifica, right next to another title she carries. She was senior queen of the Cherry Blossom Festival in 2009.
That was the year I first got to know Betty. She was my escort in the Cherry Blossom fashion show. She later took my autobiography class when I taught it at Riverside United Methodist Church.
The more I was around Betty, the more I realized she is one of Macons greatest ambassadors. She leaves positive footprints and fingerprints all over town. She is a moving target, constantly working on some project or involved in some civic-minded cause.
Being known as the Poodle Lady, folks might assume Betty is the proud owner of Lacie and Blossom, the two most photographed pink poodles in the universe.
But shes not. The 9-year-old Lacie and 2-year-old Blossom belong to Paul and Alice Williams, who do a wonderful job getting them to just about every major festival event.
Or maybe people think Betty leads a double life as Petals the Poodle, the festivals 5-year-old mascot. Only Betty doesnt crawl into a furry, 6-foot-tall costume and dispense hugs in Third Street Park, either.
The Poodle Lady doesnt own a poodle.
She has never owned a poodle.
She does have a dog. His name is Sparky, and hes a lovable mixed-breed rescue dog. His hair is short and straight, not long and curly, and theres nothing prissy about him. So dont try to put a pink bow in his hair.
Betty also is a devout Georgia Bulldog fan, so when you holler Go Dogs! youre speaking her language.
Actually, the Poodle Lady does have 10 poodles. They are pink and made out of wood.
If Betty has her way, Macon may one day be the pink poodle center of the universe.
For the past decade, Betty has been the No. 1 cheerleader for the wooden cut-out dogs that sell for $25, with proceeds going to the festival. The Middle Georgia Woodworkers Association makes them, and Acme Paint gives them their appropriate color.
There are now so many of them in front yards and porches around town, we might have to apply for a kennel license.
I love this festival more than anybody, Betty said. I see how happy these poodles make people when they display them.
Betty lives on Oxford Road -- one of the signature stretches of the Cherry Blossom Trail. The flowering Yoshino cherry trees line the street and form a canopy of breathtaking blossoms in the Wesleyan Woods subdivision.
Her yard is among the most photogenic in the neighborhood. It is where blossoms and wooden poodles come together with another of her passions -- daffodils.
Her family of wooden poodles are real showstoppers. Tour buses hit the brakes and let people jump off and walk around in front of her house.
One afternoon this past week, Betty heard a knock on her door. It was two women from Maryland and one from Pennsylvania.
They told me they had traveled all over the world, and Macon was one of the most beautiful places they had ever seen, she said. They thought the poodles were so cute, and they wanted to buy one. Those poodles are contagious. Once you see one, you want one.
Another man, from Florida, told her he was going to take home a pink poodle to put in his yard with all his pink flamingos.
If they awarded a prize for top poodle saleswoman, Betty would be queen of that, too. About 120 poodles are made each year. She sold 76 last year and 75 this year.
That she was able to sell any this year is a profile in courage. She had breast cancer when she was 38 years old and now -- 36 years later -- the cancer has raised its ugly head again.
Although she had surgery in December and is undergoing chemotherapy treatments, it has not stopped her. It has barely slowed her down.
She rode on a float with other past senior queens in the parade Sunday. Her grandson, Wyatt Williams, a first-grader at Stratford Academy, has attended many of the festival events with her.
She sold two poodles to Central Georgia Cancer Care and another four dogs to a woman whose husband also was undergoing chemo.
It is very important for me to stay involved, so I still keep selling the poodles, she said. I dont want people to buy them from me out of pity. I just want to promote the festival. And I appreciate their prayers.
Sometimes people will leave miniature stuffed pink poodles in her mailbox or drop them off at her doorstep.
They are her calling card. After all, she is the Poodle Lady.
Reach Gris at 744-4275 or email@example.com.