May 27, 2020

Betty Deimel (May 6, 1948–May 21, 2020)

Betty Deimel, the former Betty Elaine Lovell, died in a hospital in Canandaigua, New York last Thursday. She apparently died of a bacterial infection and was not a COVID-19 victim. Our son, Geoffrey August Deimel, and his wife, Sara Marie Wagner, were in attendance when the end came. I had visited the day before, when a family friend, the Rev. Vicki Wesen, led Ministration at the Time of Death via Zoom. Betty was unresponsive for our visits, and, until Wednesday afternoon, had been on a ventilator.

Betty had been rushed to F.F. Thompson Hospital when she could not be roused for breakfast May 9 at the Ontario Center for Rehabilitation and Healthcare, where she had been living. She had suffered various medical problems for some time. Problems became increasingly serious in 2006, and she became unable to work. Her son and daughter-in-law had brought her to the Finger Lakes from the Chicago area to offer her better care.

Betty with son August
Betty with son August
Geneva, New York, August 2018
Betty and I met at the University of Chicago, where she was an English major a year behind me. We got to know one another at my Alpha Delta Phi fraternity house. She was dating a fraternity brother a year ahead of me. Like me, he was a physics major. When Boyfriend-Number-One graduated, Betty and I began to see more of one another and became square dance partners. (Square dancing was not mainstream at Chicago.) After my graduation, we wrote to one another and had a few opportunities to meet. Two-and-a-half years later, we were married on the Chicago campus, by which time, I was in the Army fighting the Vietnam War with my clarinet.

Betty had wanted to be a children’s librarian and earned her library degree from the University of Hawaii while I was stationed in Honolulu. After we moved to Atlanta to allow me to continue my graduate studies, Betty landed a temporary position at Emory University as a reference librarian. She loved the job, but her failure to be offered a permanent position changed the direction of her career. She earned a second master’s degree, in public administration, at Georgia State University. In Raleigh, North Carolina, she held an administrative position with the National Association of Attorneys General before becoming an owner and worker at a startup canvas works. She also became a mother in Raleigh. Later, in Meadville, Pennsylvania, she worked in the development office of Allegheny College.

In 1987, Betty joined the technical staff of the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. (I joined the SEI a few months later.) She stayed at that job for a decade before forming her own consulting firm, Gateway Associates, to continue the work she had been doing at the SEI. Her work was directed at software process improvement and involved a good deal of travel, including several stints in Australia.

Betty and Lionel at the wedding of August and Sara
Betty and me at the wedding of August and Sara
Annapolis, Maryland, June 2008
So much for the obvious facts. Who was Betty? I’m sure many of her friends would call her a people person. She was a sensitive, caring extrovert, and many mutual friends were surprised when she married me, who was, at least at the time, a not-very-sensitive (if slightly romantic) introvert. Moreover, I was an intellectual and academic, and she was mildly disdainful of those things. She was a person who remembered birthdays and sought out gifts she could give for no obvious reason.

Also, Betty was a liberal, and I was a conservative Republican from New Orleans. We were both interested in politics but seldom let our differences get in the way of our relationship. Betty did convince me not to vote for Nixon in 1968, and I eventually became a committed liberal pretty much on my own. Betty became a feminist, a development that didn’t trouble me, but we clashed over the Equal Rights Amendment. She marched for the ERA; I wrote a letter to the editor against it. Betty was right, and she simply indulged me at the time. Betty also helped elect the first female mayor of Raleigh,

When I was on the faculty at North Carolina State University, we met Don and Vicki Wesen. Don was in animal science and worked with cows. Vicki volunteered as librarian at her Episcopal church. She became good friends with Betty and enlisted her help in organizing the church library. Perhaps not surprisingly, their conversation eventually turned to religion. Vicki was surprised to learn that her friend was not a Christian, having grown up nominally Unitarian. “But you’re the most Christian person I know,” Vicki remarked, presumably based on Betty’s demeanor. As a birthday president, Vicki arranged for Betty to have talks with her priest. This eventually led to both Betty and Geoffrey being baptized. Betty and I were later confirmed in the Episcopal Church. I discovered that the Episcopal Church was the church I had been looking for.

It always seemed surprising that Betty had such success at the SEI and later in her post-SEI career. She had been working with computers since her Georgia State days and was comfortable with computers, having used SPSS and assorted administrative software. I suppose that being married to me also gave her some useful familiarity with technical people. Anyway, she joked about helping software engineers get in touch with their feelings. Mostly, she taught them to be disciplined, something that often doesn’t come naturally to programmers. It was Betty’s communication and interpersonal skills that made her successful in an area far removed from library science.

Most especially, Betty was a planner and a doer. She built a career by making the most of unexpected developments. She led a troop of blind Brownies in Raleigh. She planned the renovation of the kitchen in our newly purchased Mt. Lebanon home. She planned parties and vacations, and she planned psychological exercises for use by our church. She helped individuals by administering and interpreting their Myers–Briggs inventory, an activity for which she actually had credentials. She arranged for Geoffrey to attend a prestigious Anglican boarding school in Australia for a term. She planned how we could finance our son’s college expenses.

We never did return to square dancing, and our dalliance with ballroom dancing was fleeting. We did some hiking in Hawaii, but that was more my thing than hers. We both were movie buffs. Betty was on the board of film society in Raleigh, and we even attended an AFI event in Williamsburg, Virginia. Besides parenting, music probably brought us together more than anything. In Pittsburgh, we enjoyed the symphony, ballet, and opera. We also sang together for many years in the chancel choir of St. Paul‘s Episcopal Church in Mt. Lebanon. Betty took some piano lessons but didn’t stick with it.

For reasons I never completely understood, Betty wanted to live near water and wanted to sail. That and her concern that I would not be able to deal with her medical problems led to our separation and eventual divorce. She planned even that to be as minimally disruptive as possible to everyone’s life. Betty moved to Annapolis, Maryland, and bought a house within shouting distance of a cove that opened into Chesapeake Bay. Alas, her health never allowed her to fully realize her dream, and her life near the water was short-lived.

Her final years were a constant struggle simply to muddle through. Betty moved back to the Chicago area but never achieved a stable living situation. She never lost hope for better times, but she could not overcome her infirmities. In the Finger Lakes, she experienced stability if not happiness. We have remained friends, and I will miss her.

Rest in peace, Betty Deimel, and rise in glory.

1 comment:

Anonymous comments are not allowed. All comments are moderated by the author. Gratuitous profanity, libelous statements, and commercial messages will be not be posted.