Betty Kirby grew up picking and chopping cotton. In high school, she dreamed of earning a college degree, moving to New York and working in a building so big it could touch the heavens. But then she fell in love — not with cotton.
Before she graduated high school, her late husband, Max, convinced her to drop out and move to Arkansas. Together, she said, they chopped cotton. And that was how she paid for her wedding dress.
After several years, Kirby said they decided to move back to Alabama and live in Albertville. She worked several jobs, including a position at Dendy’s — an all-men’s clothing store she said was formerly located downtown.
But in 1970, she fell in love again — this time with taxes.
Tuesday, Feb. 11, marked 50 years since Kirby started her tax return service business, Betty’s Tax Service in Albertville. Filing tax returns was a job she didn’t realize would ever become a passion.
“A friend of ours knew I had been doing tax returns for several of our friends for nothing,” Kirby said. “He said, ‘Why don’t you buy a license and start charging?’ … He said it cost $35 to get a license, and I didn’t think I would make enough to pay for it. But he talked me into it. After I got my license, that year I made $500, and I’ve been doing it ever since … The Lord’s really blessed us.”
Kirby began her business by working out of her home, in the corner of her kitchen. In 1975, Kirby said her client base had grown so much that the business needed a home of its own — at least for her husband’s sake.
“By 1995, he was semi-retired, and I had so many clients come through the house he couldn’t get any peace,” Kirby recalled. “Finally, one day, he came in and said ‘It’s either me or the business.’”
She chose Max.
Eventually, Betty’s Tax Service located to its current home at 817 Janet St. when Tula Teal bought out the business. Now, Teal’s daughter, Anna Sanford, runs the tax service company Kirby started.
With Betty’s Tax Service’s 50th season underway, Kirby said there have been many changes to the tax return process, but none bigger than the advancement in technology.
“I guess the biggest change was when we got computers, because I didn’t trust them,” she said. “My first computer was eight megahertz in speed, and now they’re, what, like a 100-and-something? That’d be like the difference between driving a sports car and a tractor-trailer truck… I would do the tax return by hand while I put the information on the computer, then I’d put it on the form. And I could do it faster than the computer could.”
Kirby said she’s been fortunate to be a tax return specialist for 50 years, but she hasn’t planned to retire any time soon. After turning 85 years old on the same day as her career milestone, Kirby said she might be the oldest tax return specialist in Alabama. The Reporter was unable to have it confirmed, but if all goes according to plan, the speculated achievement could be ensured.
“My job is very interesting,” she said. “I enjoy it very much. My plans are to live till I’m 98, which is 13 more years — good Lord willing — and keep doing tax returns.
“I’m not going to retire. I love it too much.”