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No! Not Betty!

I was already disgruntled with the way 2021 unfolded, then like a thief in the night, death came calling for Betty White on the last day of the year. She would have been a centenarian in two and a half weeks.

Like so many others, when I first learned of Betty White’s death on Facebook, I quickly discounted it as a cruel, end-ofyear hoax.

“No! Not Betty!” I thought. “She’s going to be with us forever. She’s immortal.”

But the evening news confirmed she had died in her sleep, and I was as devastated as if I had lost a family member. I mourn with the thousands of fans across America who loved her.

I first remember her portraying cocky, smart-mouthed, man-chasing Sue Ann Niven on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Betty White and Mary Tyler Moore had great chemistry in their scenes together, as did she and Ed Asner and she and Ted Knight. Sue Ann, with every hair in its place and a permanent, unforgettable devilish grin plastered across her face, said nasty, horribly inappropriate remarks to good-as-gold Mary. Though she was Mary’s adversary, we couldn’t get enough of mean ol’ Sue Ann. She made it interesting. Betty won Emmys as best supporting actress for her performance in that role in 1975 and 1976.

She was a bonafide Golden Girl and acted alongside Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan, and Estelle Getty in a situation comedy bearing the same name. Betty played spacey, hilariously naive Rose Nylund, and as she did on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, she stole most of the scenes with her line delivery, perfect timing, and oh-so-innocent facial expressions.

In recent years, Betty White was everyone’s surrogate grandmother — kind, smart, witty, and never hesitating to say what she truly felt with a gleam in her eye and a lipsticked smile as broad as a rainbow.

She never pulled a punch. After a widespread social media campaign in 2013, NBC invited Betty to host Saturday Night Live. In her monologue, she thanked Facebook and said, “…I didn’t know what Facebook was. But now I know what it is, I have to say, it sounds like a huge waste of time.”

Like me, she was an unapologetic animal lover. “I love children, but the only problem with children is they grow up to be people, and I just like animals better than people. It’s that simple,” she told a talk show host one time.

On David Letterman’s Late Night show in 2017, she once gave ten tips for living a long and healthy life. “Get at least eight hours of beauty sleep — nine if you’re ugly,” she said. “Take some wheat grass, soy paste, and carob, toss in the garbage and cook yourself a big-ass piece of pork.” The live studio audience roared with laughter. You just didn’t expect a cuss word to come out of her lovely, sweet mouth, but she never shied away from shocking us with an expletive or two, followed by that contagious smile.

Betty was a timeless treasure and like fine wine, got better with age. She reflected the good in this world — kindness, love, compassion, service, and lots of laughter. I put her high on the celebrity pedestal with the likes of Dolly Parton, another figure admired by almost everyone despite her political affiliation and world views.

Betty wasn’t scared of death and spoke of it often. In an interview with the New York Times’ Frank Bruni, she said, “My mother had a wonderful approach to death. [Mom would say,] ‘It’s the one secret that we don’t know.’ So whenever we would lose somebody very close and very dear, she would always say, ‘Well, now he knows the secret.’ And it took the curse off of it somehow.”

Interviewer James Lipton asked her, “What would you like to hear God say to you, when you get to the pearly gates?”

Betty got that twinkle in her eye and replied, “Come on in, Betty. Here’s Allen,” referring to the love of her life, Allen Ludden, who died in 1981. Just thinking about that reunion makes me tear up.

A few hours after Betty’s death was announced, a friend sent me an editorial cartoon created by Marshall Ramsey. It showed a smiling, winged Betty White at the pearly gates surrounded by dogs and cats. St. Peter says, “It says so much about your life and legacy if people think you died too soon at 99.”

Too soon. That’s how I feel. No! Not Betty!

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