Elizabeth D. “Betsey” Ryan: 1920-2012

Courtesy Photo

Since my mom’s death earlier this year, I have had the chance to go through many of her little treasures: keepsakes, letters and postcards, boxes of unsorted photographs. The pictures cover more than a century, giving glimpses of ancestors and my mom’s early life, beginning with her birth in Elizabeth, New Jersey. I could sense the change and the freedom she experienced by “going West.” There she is with that archaeological dig in New Mexico that she always spoke about! The breezy Western ways offered her the life she loved. And then to see pictures of my dad, who died when I was so young. What a dashing couple they were, that B-17 pilot and his bride!

I read many expressions of the love and respect people had for Betsey. She was quite a character and had many sides to her, but was always knowledgeable, engaged, passionate, and caring. Besides reminding me how much I miss her, and how blessed, lucky, and loved we were, the pictures underscore how much Betsey experienced in her 91 years — the full cycle of the human experience.

She was a reader for the news department at the Sumter, South Carolina, radio station, where she announced the end of World War II. Betsey had a voice — actually many voices. Mom. Schoolteacher (at Laguna Blanca). Principal (of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church School in Ventura). Reader of scripture (at St. Paul’s, All Saints by-the-Sea in Santa Barbara, and St. Michael’s in Isla Vista). People said she made scripture come alive. President of the Maravilla Residents Council. Concerned citizen. At the Santa Barbara Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic Studio, where Betsey volunteered for over 30 years, her claim to fame was that she really did not need the ever-present monitor, except when she knew she made a mistake and would have already thrown an expletive at it! She was always a voice for social justice, for the less fortunate, and for powerless children in Santa Barbara or around the world.

But Betsey knew that to be a voice, one must listen, and perhaps that was one of her greatest gifts. She made others feel comfortable while sharing and unburdening themselves. She could be counted on to be that friend when you needed one.

Betsey had personality, wit and charm, class and style. I could go on and on with the superlatives. She enjoyed great conversation. She loved to tell a story and enjoyed the humorous aspects of the crazy world we live in. She loved a good joke, as long as it was not at the expense of someone or a group.

She loved having visitors to “the treehouse,” the apartment on Humphrey Road where she lived for nearly 40 years. I remember her upstairs surrounded by trees, birds, butterflies, and ocean breezes. Also known as “Liberty Hall,” during the 1960s and early ’70s, the treehouse was a safe, emotionally warm place where wayward friends with parental issues could stay a while. She liked to make sure everyone was okay, so when troubled kids would drop by, she would find ways to quickly and confidentially alert their parents that they need not worry. Mom’s home was an open house in many ways: It was an open house for ideas and feelings. It was an open house for people who had dreams or nightmares. An open house for being yourself. She really got it; she was really cool. As one of my brother’s friends said, “Your mom never talked down to me; she spoke with me.”

The last few years of her life were quite remarkable. We avoided all visits to the emergency room until the very end. Betsey loved her exercise in the pool and relaxing in the sun on fun-filled afternoons, followed by fresh food prepared as nutritiously and naturally as possible. She also thrived on being part of the Santa Barbara scene. Whether it was enjoying a chile relleno at the Rose Café or scouting out a new restaurant, Betsey was game. She was one of the Eight Who Eat group: Maravilla Retirement Home residents who go out on the first Saturday evening of each month. One time, as I held a restaurant door open for the group to leave, I overheard one hostess say to her coworker while watching the train-like procession of six walkers move slowly out the door, “Aren’t they just adorable?!”

Love you, Mom!


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