Betsy Bennett is retiring, and when she told the staff members of the state Museum of Natural Sciences about it Friday, some of them cried and all of them stood. That would be a fitting tribute for all North Carolinians to pay to Bennett, who says, following completion of the $56 million museum expansion called the Nature Research Center, that it’s a good time for her to bow out.
As if there could be a good time for such an outstanding public servant to leave.
When Bennett took over about two decades ago, few envisioned that under her leadership, including the motivation of a larger and dedicated staff and fund-raising of a championship caliber, the museum today would be in the forefront of its kind in the United States.
Long-time North Carolinians can remember wandering into the old science museum in downtown Raleigh and seeing the snakes. That’s the memory most of them have. The snakes, some fossils, some fish. It took an hour or so to see the stuff.
Today, in what no one would recognize as anything like the old museum, a family could spend many hours there. Dinosaur skeletons, exotic animals, turtles, natural areas, a children’s educational play zone and now the Nature Research Center are among the attractions, along with priceless emeralds.
The variety in the museum reflects Bennett’s own imagination and the tireless efforts of people she has brought on board. And yes, North Carolina taxpayers made some contributions of their own. The museum really is one of the points of pride in the entire state, and a must-stop destination for all who are or have been Tar Heels.
Bennett may be 68, but she conveys the enthusiasm of a teenager. North Carolina needs to find her another crusade.