Betty Gallagher, a long-time Santa Barbara resident, one-time actress, and widow of former Associated Press President Wes Gallagher, died Thursday at the Casa Dorinda retirement facility in Montecito after suffering a stroke. She was 93.
The couple moved to Santa Barbara in 1976 after Gallagher retired from the AP. They were members of the Birnham Wood Golf Club in Montecito and Betty, an avid golfer and bridge player, was a regular at the Bridge Center. She also belonged to the Little Town Club. Wes, meanwhile, was active with the Santa Barbara Boys and Girls Club, including a term as its president. After Wes’s death 11 years ago, Betty moved to Casa Dorinda.
Wes Gallagher’s byline was familiar to many of his generation. He was a prominent war correspondent throughout World War II, and his story reporting the Normandy invasion dominated front pages across America.
It was the fortunes of war that brought the Gallaghers together. Wes was seriously injured while covering the allied invasion of north Africa. While recuperating in New York in a full body cast, he met Betty, an actress then playing small roles on Broadway. According to their children, the romance was fast and enduring.
Betty, born in Detroit in 1916, had launched her acting career at Carnegie Tech University in Pittsburgh. She graduated in 1938, the heyday of radio, and soon was performing on popular shows like the Lone Ranger and eventually made her way to Broadway.
With the war’s end Betty gave up her career to join Wes in Europe. A photo showing Betty holding the phone line open as Wes rushed toward it to be the first to report a verdict in the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals is part of Associated Press lore.
Betty often traveled with her husband during his rise through the AP ranks, serving as “the AP’s morale officer,” according to his daughter Jane, a biology professor in New York.
Their path to Santa Barbara began five years prior to Wes’s retirement, and the choice was narrowed down to Ponte Vedra, Florida, Pebble Beach, or Santa Barbara.
Florida really had no chance; Wes was a fifth generation Californian, and he was coming home. His son Brian once told him once that passing up the Pebble Beach property “would go down as one of the great financial blunders of all time. The house there was on the first fairway of one of the world’s most famous golf courses, and it and was going for $130,000.” His father just smiled and said, ‘We made the right choice.” Brian, the oldest of their children, followed his father into journalism and is now editorial page editor of USA TODAY.
Their retirement pick was a house on Conejo Road, where the couple lived from 1976 until Wes’ death 11 years ago. Almost miraculously, the house has survived all three of the major fires since the 1960s that have devastated that side of the Riviera, including the recent Tea Fire.
The Wes and Betty’s third child, Christine, lives in Los Angeles and has been a near-constant presence as her mother’s health declined in recent years.
“Santa Barbara for them was better than heaven; a life of sunshine, golf, and friends,” Christine explained. “They both enjoyed it to the last.”