Bettye J. Nelson, who co-founded Andy Nelson's Southern Pit Barbecue three decades ago, died Monday of lung cancer at Stella Maris Hospice in Timonium.
The longtime Glen Arm resident was 77.
Bettye J. Bryan, the daughter of a judge and a homemaker, was born and raised in Memphis, Tenn., where she graduated from Central High School in 1951.
She met her future husband, Andrew V. Nelson Sr., when the two were students at Memphis State College, now the University of Memphis.
"I picked her out the first few weeks I was there, and we married during her second year," said Mr. Nelson, who was drafted by the Colts in 1957 and played defensive back in Baltimore until being traded to the New York Giants in 1963.
"She was an English major and real smart. She later left school and went to work," said Mr. Nelson.
When her husband joined the Colts, Mrs. Nelson and her children moved to Baltimore in 1957.
After ending his professional football career in 1965, Mr. Nelson owned and operated a package-goods store in the old Eudowood Shopping Center.
"His father owned the Hoggly Woggly, which was a meat market and barbecue pit in Athens, Ala., so he knew about barbecue. After moving to Baltimore, he could find plenty of pit beef places but not barbecue," said a son, Andy V. Nelson Jr., who is marketing director for the family business. "On weekends, he'd make barbecue in the backyard of our Lutherville home for family and friends."
About 30 years ago, Mrs. Nelson established a small barbecue pit at Valley View Farms garden center on York Road in Cockeysville.
"They were friends with the Foards who owned Valley View Farms and opened up a weekend barbecue stand there. Then they found themselves opening on Fridays and then Thursdays, and then earlier and earlier in the week," their son said.
The business moved to its present home a few doors south of Valley View about 12 years ago.
The red clapboard building is distinguished by a large white silhouette of a pig on the roof. The business is known by its slogan, "We serve no swine before its time."
"Dad's forte was handling the meat, and Mom's was the creation of the sides and running the business side. She was sweet but had a quiet determination, but basically it was a hobby for my father," their son said. "However, they both really hustled."
"She started the business 30 years ago and was its president and handled all the buying," her husband said. "She was always very hardworking, and sometimes she even ran the register. Even though my name is on the building, I worked for her."
The recipe for the pulled pork, which is slowly cooked over hickory wood fires, came from Mr. Nelson's father, while the South Carolina mustard sauce was from Mrs. Nelson's family.
"We sell pit beef, but our barbecue outsells it 10 to 1," Andy Nelson Jr. said.
In addition to her husband and son, another of Mrs. Nelson's sons and two of her daughters work in the business.
"My parents were great cooks. We use her recipes for baked goods and our chili. She also took care of our flower beds. She had a keen sense of things and saw all the nuances," said a daughter, Linda W. Nelson of Towson.
"She was very humble and easygoing but was also shrewd and a hard worker and very smart about business matters," Ms. Nelson said.
"She was the one who got scales in here. Before that, we just piled meat on a bun, until one day we weighed a sandwich and found out we had a pound of meat on it," she said, laughing.
At her Manor Road home in Glen Arm, Mrs. Nelson indulged her passion for flower gardening and canning, and was known for her blackberry jam.
She was a member of Cub Hill Presbyterian Church.
"Even at the end of her life, pulled pork remained her favorite," said Ms. Nelson.
Services will be held at 1:30 p.m. Friday at Ruck Towson Funeral Home, 1050 York Road.
Also surviving are two other sons, Paul B. Nelson of Glen Arm and Brett R. Nelson of Baltimore; three other daughters, Sheryl A. Nelson of Glen Arm, Leslie J. Nelson of Baltimore and Susan E. Harrell of Ocean View, Del.; a sister, Ann Clasgens of Detroit; 14 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.