|| Howard E. Bettinson, late owner of Bettinson Insurance Agency, passed away unexpectedly on Thursday morning, August 16, 2012. He was 84 years old. Howard grew up in Waltham, the son of the late Everett and Margaret Bettinson. He was a graduate of Waltham High School. He served in the Navy for one year during World War II, having enlisted one week short of the end of the war. He then went to School at Northeastern University, where he received his B.S. Degree in Accounting. In the co-operative program at Northeastern University he took good advice from an elder and decided to start his own insurance agency upon graduation. He founded the Bettinson Insurance Agency in Arlington, MA. Howard’s incredibly outgoing personality, sharp mind, and concern for his clients made him a truly conscientious small businessman and a great insurance agent. He served his community for over 50 years in this capacity, before handing over the reins to his son, Robert.
Howard loved people and being on the go. When new to Burlington, he joined the Lions club. Then he served on the Burlington School Committee from 1958 to 1970. During those years, the School Committee dealt with the need to build more schools in Burlington and Howard passionately believed in public education and did his part in promoting the well being of the community in this manner. He was a member of the Mishawam Choral Society. He was a 59 year member of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, being involved in all the affairs of the church including building a new church, parish finances, trips, activities, choir member, unofficial social chairman, and even up until recent years, taking care of cutting the lawn. In partnership with his late wife, the church community was very much a part of his extended family.
Howard was a devoted and loving husband to his late wife Natalie. They shared many interests like music, vacations, summers in York Maine, and cruises. They both loved people. And they loved being helpful and generous toward others. They forged simple friendships with people from many walks of life. And simple routines like going to Panera for coffee became special with Howard and Natalie. Howard lovingly cared for her when she was ill. As a father, he showed his children how to live life responsibly, and how to work hard at whatever you do, how to succeed, to laugh and smile, and be the best person one can be. With each passing elder year, he seemed to grow younger and younger and more and more grateful for all his blessings in life. There was always much to do, rather than think about getting old. And he loved being a grandfather and great grandfather and truly appreciated all the good fortune that he had manifested in his life.
Howard has left a lasting impression on all those who he has met and his memory will always bring a smile to those who knew and loved his humanity.
Howard was the beloved husband of the late Natalie Mary (Taylor). He was the loving father of Caryl & her husband Dennis Higgins of Sandown, NH, Mark of Burlington, Kimberly Cooke & her husband Bud of Largo, Fl, Craig of York, ME, Robert & his wife Stacie of Acton. He was the brother of Winslow Bettinson of Braintree, the late Ruth Bettinson and Adele Broderick. He was the proud grandfather of Sarah, Andrew, & Johanna Higgins, Caitlin Stonis, Taylor, Travis, Todd, Haley, Jordan, Devon, Callahan, and Grace Bettinson. Brother-in-law of Donald Taylor & his wife Gene of Bolton, and the late Olive D. Taylor.
Funeral from the Edward V. Sullivan Funeral Home, 43 Winn Street, BURLINGTON (exit 34 off Rt. 128, Woburn side) on Monday, August 20 at 9:30 a.m. Followed by Funeral Services at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 10 St. Mark’s Road, Burlington at 10:30 a.m. Visiting hours will be Sunday from 3-6 p.m. Relatives and friends are respectfully invited. Interment will be private. Memorials in Howard’s name may be made to People Helping People, P.O. Box 343, Burlington, MA 01803.
Words by Mark Bettinson
September 12, 1927
The Last Year
On Tuesday evening past, Howard Edwin Bettinson, one month short of 85 years young, lean, tanned, gold draped around his neck and wrist, thinking of himself “not a day older than forty five”, slipped into eternity while sitting at the kitchen table in the presence of three good friends Roger and Barbara Moulton and their mutual friend Daniel. I don’t know Daniel’s last name. I know that he is a young man in his twenties from the Sudan, a survivor of the cultural warfare of his homeland who is building his life now in the states. I will be eternally grateful that the three of you were present for him as our father faced his mortality and transcended consciousness as we know it in your home. Roger has poignantly shared with me that as dad sat at his kitchen table with his hands on his head, feeling something wrong within, he uttered those words that refuse to cross our lips if they aren’t connected to the emotional truth behind their nature. We can all take comfort that he was able to twice say… “God Help Me” in the presence of these friends. And this gentleman, Daniel placed his hands on dad’s shoulder and offered dad his humanity and his prayers. Truly, we are thankful to you, Barbara, Roger and Daniel.
We are here to honor Howard Bettinson. Where do I begin? If we tried to make a movie about dad’s life… it might be appropriate to call it… “The Curious Case of Howard Bettinson” And I’d cast Howard himself to begin the narrative of the trailer….
“My name is Howard Bettinson. I was born under curious circumstances. While everyone else was aging, I was getting younger, all along.”
Ever since dad moved out of the condo in Burlington and into the Gables in Winchester, about a year ago, his quality of life has been positively upbeat, inspired, and precious. Dad has made new friends at the Gables that can’t even be counted on two hands. I recently picked him up to go to Panera’s for coffee… “Oh Mark, let me introduce you to Gene… he’s my new best friend. Gene got into the back seat of me car and dad hopped in to the front. He leaned over to me and said, ‘He’s taking Joe’s place!’
Dad was apparently dubbed “the governor” at the Gables but he had friends in all the high places; Panera’s, Dunkin Donuts, Not Your Average Joes, St. Marks, Planet Fitness, even the Amtrack Down-easter; recently I dropped him in Woburn for the train to Maine. The ticket machine wouldn’t sell him a ticket; sold out. No problem… he just got on the train; the conductor never asked for the ticket! That was my father. He just kept coming up smelling like roses.
He lived a life so full of connections this past year. Monday’s with Caryl, Tuesday’s with Roger, Sunday mornings at church with Doris and friends, Sunday afternoons with Roger, Sunday nights with Taylor, Saturday Mornings with Me, Wednesday’s with the Gable crew on the excursion of the week; I understand he even went in the ocean at Revere Beach recently. Knowing my dad, I hope he left the Speedo behind; Thursday’s right here with the choir- thank you Susan Dearborn, and almost any day with Sarah or Tina or Bobby or Craig or with his trusted friend and guardian angel, Joanne Galluzzi. Oh… yeah… and Almost any day at Panera’s with Bob and Peggy and Bert and Carol… and Hazel! And let’s not forget he traveled to Maine for the wedding of a dear family friend and to Florida to visit with Kim and also cruised with his friend Marge.
And he traveled to NYC with Craig and Donna and kids. Can’t imagine any of you are surprised that in a long leisurely morning in the hotel coffee shop in NYC, dad started up multiple conversations with people of all cultural backgrounds, taking an interest in them, in their stories, promoting their enjoyment of life. Apparently he told each and every one of them that they have to go see the Rockettes!
And as recently as three weeks ago, Dad was living it up at my annual summer pool party; leaping off the diving board, lounging for an hour in the water, huge smile, laughter, agreement, disagreement, chatting and talking it up with anyone... who would share with him that gift of connection to life and living.
Dad was born on September 12, 1927 in Arlington, MA. He grew up in Waltham, the third of four children, Winslow, Adele, Dad and Ruth. Dad is survived by his older brother Winslow at 92 years young! We are graced with Winslow’s presence today and I use that word “grace” with complete sincerity. I don’t know a great deal about dad’s childhood years, but I do know that when he was about 10 or 11 years old, his younger sister Ruth died after a short illness. She must have been about 8 or 9 years old. Dad never really talked about that. He didn’t talk about things that were emotionally painful, very much. But I have always wondered how difficult that must have been for him. I do know that Aunt Adele named her first daughter Ruth. And I have always observed and loved the spark of life that my cousin Ruth has brought out of “Uncle Howie” through the years.
Dad loved to tell people that during WW11, he served one year in the Navy; aboard the USS Never Sail, having enlisted about one or two weeks short of the end of the war. Through his boyhood and life long friend, Russ Kelly, who was also in the Navy, dad met Donald Taylor of Woburn, who would become his brother-in-law. We are also still blessed with Uncle Don’s presence today in honoring dad and life and God. In 1951, Dad graduated from Northeastern University and immediately started The Bettinson Insurance Agency in Arlington.
Dad married Natalie Taylor in October of 1953, having been introduced by Donald. A year or two prior to this, Grammy Bettinson was hanging clothes in the back yard up at York, Maine, having a conversation with Aunt Olive. She told Aunty that if Natalie can be patient with Howard, she’ll never want for anything in life. Grammy Bettinson knew that dad possessed a sharp mind and a willingness to work hard to make something of him self. And he did!
My brothers and sisters and I came into their lives starting in 1955. And our entire time together was spent growing up at 1 Carey Ave, here in Burlington and vacationing in York, Maine. We have such fond memories of growing up. We had great neighborhood friends, many of whom are likely here today. “Many hands make light work”…. He would preach to us, as he enticed the neighborhood children into raking leaves with us… They knew he would take us out for some fun afterwards. I’m remembering Bedford Farms and Brown’s Ice Cream, Ski trips to Pat’s Peek and Drive-in Movies where Panera’s is now! I’m reminded of the Volkswagen Beetle and all of us taking turns over time, sitting in his lap driving the bug home from the Sebastian house to our driveway. I’m reminded of him letting us sit on the open tail gate on the ride back from the beach in York. I am remembering vacationing with the Sebastian’s, and the whole neighborhood coming up to join us, once a year…. I’m also thinking of him pulling a three point turn on the auto-road of Mt. Washington in the fog with Aunt Eva in the back crying we’re all going to die! He… was laughing!
During this time, Dad also served on the School Committee in Burlington. We remember distributing flyers in mailboxes and going out to Friendly’s afterwards. I remember he fought for Sex Education in the public schools… he was actually on TV. In terms of social consciousness, he was ahead of his time. He still is. He served for thirteen years on the committee, until 1970. As his mother had predicted, he was a very responsible father and husband who was doing well financially. He was contributing to the community in terms of business, public service as well as church service here at St. Marks. While Mom was the portrait of unconditional love, dad was the responsible partner, the breadwinner, and the pretty straight laced businessman and community servant who was doing the right things. Now, let’s be honest. There’s always more than one angle from which to view any of us. He had some strong opinions, even then! Is a straight laced businesman prone for instance, if he came across a friend smoking a cigarette, to ask him… “Have you picked out your coffin yet?” But all in all, my mother kept him in check
As we grew older, into our teens and twenties, we also recognized another side of dad’s humanity. We saw a part of dad that wasn’t entirely accessible to us or even to himself. He was becoming prone to feeling depressed and withdrawn for stretches of time. Some of you who have known him well for a number of years have seen this. Caryl reminds me that this seemed to begin after his days on the school committee were over. And when he got in those moods, it was difficult for anyone to help him. He himself couldn’t pinpoint what was worrying or saddening him in order to do something about it. And in those moments, without that clarity of conscience, his emotional nature was not accessible to anybody’s attempts to comfort him. Nor was it easily accessible in those years for us to rely on him on that emotional level, when we felt confused about some hurt or loss in our life. Now mind you this is personal and it’s largely internal to the family; these were temporary moments in time and this is not a tragic story that I’m telling, nothing of the sort. But it is part of Dad’s humanity and ours.
The first time that I ever saw tears in dad’s eyes was one of those childhood memories that just stick with you. He was standing in front of his bureau putting the finishing touches on his tie. I walked up to him for a reason that I don’t remember and as he turned I noticed the trail of moisture rolling down his cheek. I think it was from one eye only. It stayed with me. I don’t remember where he and mom were heading out to. I remember it was the daytime and the television was buzzing with the coverage of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The next time that I saw dad with tears was long after my childhood and adolescence was over. This isn’t a judgment or a criticism. But it came to reflect for me the simple fact that dad had some deep seated place of his own that he kept sheltered away from his daily living. I wondered about the loss of a sister so young, but I don’t know. Again, this is not a judgment, but a testament to his complete humanity.
As with each of us, we all live in two worlds simultaneously; the inner world of solitude; of self, and the outer world of personality in relationships with others. Dad was much more comfortable with the outer world. He needed that outside activity. He was good at it. He was generous and magnanimous. He would take his best friends on a cruise. He would loan money to a friend. He would buy a dear neighbor a microwave oven when microwaves were the new rage in technology. He found his self-worth more easily in the eyes of others than he did in the solitude of time alone. Indeed, many of you sitting here in this church right now helped define his self worth. He certainly found it in the eyes of Natalie and his children and grandchildren.
Dad and Mom had a very successful marriage for over 50 years and it wasn’t because they were “Two Peas in a Pod”. Well, they were two peas in the same pod but they weren’t exactly the same at all. In our formative years, she took the lead in the social network and he followed. She got silly and laughed and cried whole heartedly while he stayed more reserved. Mom would try to solve a problem with a hug. Dad was long on opinions. She was more heart and he was more head. But together it worked for them and for us. And he was a loyal companion and support to my mother as she dealt with and recovered from Cancer and then developed Alzheimer’s over the last ten years of her life. One of our fondest memories will always be the family cruise that he took us on in February of 2006. Shortly after that trip, mom came down with Leukemia and lay down on her bed for the last time on Easter Sunday of that year. As we all sat with mom while she passed, dad sat closest, holding her hand, stoic but obviously and deeply caring. Still, perhaps a bit steeled from years of responsibilities and loyal duty to the choices he committed to, there was no tearful catharsis. That would wait for a few more years.
Along with everything I’ve just shared with you, he absolutely knew just how fortunate he was in life. And dad always felt an affinity towards people of different cultures and countries and classes. Indeed, we grew up in a home that was truly free from any form of racial or class based prejudice. After mom passed, when he had the condo all to himself, he rented a room to a young man from Brazil named Chris. Chris was, shall we say, immigration and naturalization challenged, working a job to help support his extended family. Dad truly felt himself acting out the Christian spirit by helping this young man in a time of need. He charged him $100 a month to stay there for most of a year.
And my family all know the awkwardness of watching dad at play, approaching the waiter for instance in a restaurant and asking… “Tell me, where are you from” One gentleman, clearly East Indian in origin, answered… “Texas”. Most of us would have preferred that he simple start with the next question! “So, have you folks had a busy day today? What do you recommend on the menu?” But it must be said that dad’s inquisitiveness was not at all prejudicial or judgmental or condescending. It may have been a bit politically awkward but in his new found freedom of his later years, he wasn’t too worried about that! When he approached people of all cultures to initiate a conversation, he was truly expressing the deeper, caring part of his emotional nature in the way that he could. The underlying meaning was- I see you, sir. I recognize you; I honor you, as an equal in life. I also know that he appreciated the sentiment in return.
Dad never really retired completely from the business. Someone born with the soul of a working man really doesn’t want that. He backed away gradually and found himself with more time to play, to read, to explore, and more time to think. As most of you know, he became more and more opinionated as the latter years progressed. Someone born and perhaps charged from above with finding his voice for those less fortunate than he, must do something with that energy. As he opened up more and more to his emotional nature, he turned into a crusader for the progressive ideologies in our country. This was an extension of the generosity that he had always manifested to others, but this generosity was supercharged with Red Bull. I think its fair to say, that Mitt Romney is sleeping better these days.
I have always been very proud of my father’s political opinions. I think it demonstrates an extraordinary level of compassion for others, especially those at a distance, those disadvantaged. And I was in agreement with the substance of what he wanted to see happen in our country. But I labored with many others to help him adjust the style with which he was trying to influence others towards his opinions. For in his passion to preach compassion to those less fortunate in the outside world, he could easily fall into that trap of losing compassion for those closest to him in his inner world, who simply happened to believe that there is another way to help others. And the spirit of Howard getting younger and younger with each passing year, some of us had to clamp down on the rebellious youth within him; reverse the parent/child role a bit We had to tell him, clearly, forcefully… “Dad, are you behaving?”
Howard’s voice will continue to resonate within us for some time. Agree with him or not, we heard him and he is unforgettable. And I’m always stunned at how often I’ve heard that from people around town who through the years have told me, over and over again, what a great guy my father is.
Those closest to him in the past two years or so got to see and hear another aspect of dad’s nature come forward. All of this passionate behavior was opening dad back up to something deep within his heart that he really needed to get in touch with before he could pass through this life. And that was his vulnerability around the subject of loss and mortality. Dad finally mourned the loss of Natalie, openly and with tears visible to our eyes. Dad began to recognize his own mortality openly and with tears visible to our eyes. In so doing, he gave us permission to show him our tears and we were all able to reconnect on a fundamental and primal level together.
We are all the same, in that primal place which is before and underneath, all of the Words in life… words which by their nature create shadows and opposites and can so easily be twisted and confused.
When dad had a relatively minor heart attack about four months ago, he went through a few days where his heart would stop beating for 8 or 10 seconds. He’d be sitting, listening to conversation and then his head would just nod forward. When his heart resumed, he’d lift his head as if waking from a nap. Only when he saw the alarming looks and the voices of the medical staff, did he realize that the precious experience that we call consciousness was totally vulnerable to the fates of his 84 year old heart beat. And with that vulnerability, he welled up in tears and began to express how grateful he was for his life and for all of us in his life. His tears were bittersweet… emphasis on sweet. You must believe me when I tell you these were tears of relief; Still, he seemed a bit embarrassed by these tears and apologized to me for them, but he was smiling through them; laughing through them. I said to dad…through my own tears...and laughter… “No, no… you don’t understand dad… You have nothing to apologize for… I couldn’t be more proud of you , I couldn’t be more proud that you can show me your tears at this time”.
Fast forward to this Tuesday past, the last day of his life in consciousness; a routine appointment with his neurologist, accompanied by Bobby and Sarah. He was emotional, appreciative and grateful; Grasping onto the memory that offered him the most satisfaction and the most dignity in his life; The love of his life, our dear mother and grandmother, Natalie; The validation of his worth; The woman with whom he could so proudly enjoy over 50 years together. He sat in that appointment and softened by the moisture of his open and naked heart expressing itself up and through his eyes; he pronounced his love for her again. Not two hours later, he began the journey back to her. Well done… Dad. Thank you so much for your presence in our lives.
May I honor the true and playful spirit of my father, by acknowledging that he is most certainly in all his glory right now. He has us just where he wants us! It’s all about him and our love for him right now. And we do love and respect him and we’ll miss him dearly!
My family thanks you all for your part in his and our lives. God Bless….