Brandon community promoter Bette Moffett dead at 89
BRANDON — A light has gone out in Brandon.
Community lover, friend and local treasure Bette Moffett died at home on Sept. 11 at the age of 89.
Bette inhabited the idea of community spirit. Her love of Brandon and its residents was boundless, as evidenced by her tireless efforts to support, enhance and promote the place she called home since 1968.
A Service of Celebration to honor her life with music and memories was scheduled held at the Brandon Inn on Sunday, Sept. 22 at 3 p.m.
Married to “Life” magazine editor and Vermont State Rep. Hugh Moffett, Bette traveled the world with her husband and family before settling in Brandon. Hugh Moffett died in 1985 at the age of 74.
He was first a newspaper reporter, then a writer, national affairs editor and assistant managing editor at “Life.” His accomplishments included interviews with Dr. Albert Schweitzer in Africa and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.
Bette Lou Little was born Kingsley, Iowa. After earning her degree from the University of Iowa she moved to Chicago. In 1951, she met and married Moffett, started a family and moved to Port Washington, N.Y., on Long Island. She had two sons, Mark and Joe, and two stepchildren, Molly and Tom.
Hugh Moffett was then made bureau chief for international affairs for “Life,” and the family moved to Paris for five years. They also traveled to Africa, India, the then-Soviet Union, the near and far East, and throughout Europe. When the time came to return to the States, longtime friend Dottie Kline said the couple wrote to every capital in the United States.
“They asked, “What does your state have to offer us?’ Kline recalled. “And they liked what they heard from Vermont, so they moved here.”
Bette’s no-nonsense pragmatism and can-do attitude, combined with her love of Brandon, led to the creation or enhancement of a host of civic endeavors. Her love of education, children and music informed her choices. The list of Brandon institutions that began, in part or wholly in Bette’s brain, are numerous, impressive and varied. They included the Brandon Town Band, Nifty Thrifty Thrift Shop, Aim (Academic Incentive Money), Neshobe Nurturers and the Brandon Debate.
Many of her projects revolved around education. In 2002, for instance, Bette and Neshobe Elementary School Counselor Laurie Cox inaugurated a mentoring program called NOVA that involved Otter Valley Union High School students mentoring Neshobe Elementary students twice a week. The program grew to 16 pairs and Gov. James Douglas honored the founders with a state award for mentoring during the project.
Other projects included the Neshobe Pre-School Program; the Neshobe Family Network, where children play in a structured environment while parents attended parenting classes; Everybody Wins! teaching/mentoring program; Rotary Readers Program; Neshobe School and RNeSU district spelling bee; Rotary Club Dictionary Program; the Harvest Program for different learners; and the Books On Tape Program for blind students.
In May 2011, Bette wrote a first-person compilation of her pet projects in Brandon for The Reporter’s Brandon 250th anniversary special section. Bette was considered such a central figure to the town that she got her own page. Here is how she described her need for community involvement in Brandon:
“Years ago, I applied and was accepted in the Peace Corps to spend two years in Niger, Africa, so I could work with women’s talents and use my French. I was deemed too great a medical risk (atrial fibrillation) so my dream was dashed. I decided that I would apply my energy to ‘Peace Corps Brandon’ and find more ways to support my adopted hometown in every way I could. Education and mentoring rated high on my list … If my ‘I’s’ seem too close together it’s because I have cared so much about maintaining vitality for Brandon these past 42 years.”
Bette also served on the Brandon Free Public Library Board for many years. She also served on the board of the Brandon Town School and then 13 years on the Neshobe Elementary School before stepping down in 2008.
That same year, Bette received the Vermont Board of Education’s Martha H. O’Connor Award. The annual award, the board’s highest, goes to a private citizen for their extraordinary contributions to Vermont’s school children and their education. The board describes the award recipient as someone who “celebrates the achievements of others, does not claim credit for themselves, remains resolute in difficult times, demonstrates leadership, grace, and humor, and who always makes children a priority.”
Reached at home after the award was announced, Moffett illustrated her trademark modesty.
“(Sen.) Patrick and Marcel Leahy just called to congratulate me,” she said. “Don’t they have anything better to do?”
As for her own accomplishments being recognized, Moffett said she is not special, and stayed involved despite not having a teaching degree.
“I am just blown away,” she said. “So many people have done so much. I wonder what people are thinking, but I am very, very humbled by it all because I don’t have my stripes in education. I just have a great, great love for children. I hope their curiosity never dies.”
Bette also had a flare for the spotlight and performed in the Marble Valley Players and Night Fires, sang in innumerable choral performances, hosted a radio show on WFAD, and organized local open mike readings.
As a volunteer extraordinaire, she received the Vermont Alliance for Art Education Award, the Governor’s Outstanding Community Service Award, and the Vermont State Alpha Lambda State Outstanding Service Award.
In 2011, she wrote the memoir of her childhood titled, “Roots, Shoots & Wings.”
But it was her love of music and singing that led to some of Bette’s most enduring friendships, including that of Dottie Kline, who has taught piano to hundreds of students in the Brandon area since moving here in 1978.
Bette and Dottie both lived on Park Street when the Klines moved to Brandon in 1978. Kline said they hit it off immediately once Bette learned that Dottie taught piano and Dottie learned that Bette was a singer. The two embarked on what would become a 20-year road show of local musical performance, playing inns and bookstores for tour groups and parties.
“Yeah, we really packed them in,” Kline said. “Accompaniment is the love of my life, and Bette loved to be front and center, so it was perfect.”
They deposited any money they made in what they called the “Pillar to Post” account, “because that’s where we played,” Kline said. “here to there.”
Whenever they had a few hundred dollars saved, the two friends would take a trip into New York City.
SINGING THROUGH HEARTBREAK
Despite her always upbeat, can-do demeanor, Bette had her share of tragedy, none greater than the death of her teenage son, Joe, in 1969.
Kline said it was not long after the family moved here from France and Joe was a senior at Otter Valley. He was playing in a pick-up baseball game after school one day and was hit in the heart by a line drive. He never recovered.
Kline said she was told a celebration of Joe Moffett’s life was held at OV shortly after his death.
“There was music and singing,” she said, “and there was Bette, singing the loudest.”
Bette continued singing for decades, most often with Kline, but her performing days ended after she had her first stroke roughly 10 years ago. She recovered and kept her busy schedule, albeit a bit slower. Then last year, Bette underwent cancer surgery and suffered another stroke that kept her at Helen Porter Rehabilitation in Middlebury for months. She came home to her apartment next to the Brandon Free Public Library last fall, but had rarely been seen, attended to by a live-in caregiver.
Kline said she passed away on Sept. 11 around noon.
“She took everything in stride,” Kline said. “I have always said that Bette was Brandon’s greatest asset. There will never be another Bette.”
A TRIBUTE IN FILM
About four years ago, Brandon resident and filmmaker Jon Anderson began making a documentary called “The Philosophers.” In October 2009, Anderson filmed Bette in her apartment and around Brandon as part of a sequence in the documentary. It will be shown at the memorial celebration for Bette on Sunday.
Although only 3:29 minutes long, Anderson captured Bette in her environment, and in just a few short sentences, her soulful beliefs on live, love and community. In the end, her words on film have become a touching farewell note from one of Brandon’s most beloved citizens:
“I am very high on life, so my list for my days here is long. I may not accomplish everything on my list, but it is such a vibrant goal for me to live each day to the fullest. The most severe test I had was the death of our son, but somehow it felt right to reach out to people in equal pain or greater pain, and bring that pain into your life, diffusing that severity, reaching out, being present, always, always communicating.
“Could there be other islands like ours, enjoyed by so many? We have created an honest-to-goodness community here. Like all relationships, it requires constant tending. That is our daily task.
“I believe love is poetry that plays a stealth role. It sneaks up on you. Love can be a letter, a phone call. It’s a great-grandchild singing ‘Puff the Magic Dragon.’ It’s a tap on the shoulder, a hug. I have felt unworthy of the love shown me. I feel very loved, and I am grateful.”
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