Opinion Columns & Blogs

Resolving to be more like Betty Branch

As a New Year’s resolution, I’d like to be more like how my dog thinks I am. Of course that bar is so incredibly high, I can’t imagine making the effort. Therefore, as odd as it sounds, a more reasonable resolution would call for being more like Betty Branch.

If you’ve been on the Central Coast for any length of time, odds are good that you’ve heard of Betty, most probably with the adjective “dynamo” appended to her name. Although our paths never crossed, she earned her fair share of ink before dying Dec. 21 at the age of 92 — 92 well-spent and compassionate years.

Her life began Oct. 21, 1919, in Brentwood, a suburb of L.A. that was so rural at the time that Betty rode her horse down a dirt path that ran parallel to Wilshire Boulevard, according to son Cliff.

As it turned out, she was a writer from the get-go, holding down the editor’s job of the school paper at Beverly Hills High, where she graduated in 1936.

She went on to Stanford and worked on the Stanford Daily, where she caught the eye of Mademoiselle magazine editors who selected her as a college editor for their publication.

It was through Mademoiselle and a meeting of college editors that she met her future husband, Russ, who was an editor with Time/Life.

During their 52 years together, before his death in 1992, he and Betty co-founded the Canyon Crier newspaper, which covered Laurel Canyon and the Hollywood Hills. Later, Betty would own, publish and edit the Carmel Valley Outlook newspaper, while Russ would go on to be a senior editor for the Stanford Research Institute.

In addition to running newspapers and raising four boys — Tony, Gary (deceased), Greg and Cliff — Betty returned to Stanford for a master’s in education, which led her to guidance counseling at UCSB and later marriage and family counseling.

Following a four-year stint in Thailand involving a classified project through the Stanford Research Institute overseen by the State Department, the couple moved to San Luis Obispo.

Now, any of the aforementioned professions and avocations would be a résumé buster for most folks, but Betty’s sense of social duty further blossomed on the Central Coast.

For example, she co-founded the San Luis Obispo Women’s Resource Center and Grandmother’s House; was a director for the Family Services Agency; set up a reading program for inmates at the County Jail; and, right around the dawn of personal computers, founded “Computer Rooters,” a program that helped seniors navigate the burgeoning technology. In 1990, the Board of Supervisors named Betty its Woman of the Year.

In sum, her life was just about as purpose-driven as they come. And in that light, perhaps my New Year’s resolution should be one of becoming the person my pug thinks I am. Because, in the final tally, Betty Branch set an incredibly high bar for positive action, obliterating stereotypes while relentlessly moving empathy forward.

In short, she broke the mold, and no New Year’s resolution can adequately put it back together. Thank you, Betty, for all you did, for living such a well-examined life.

Addendum: Here’s a measure of the generosity of heart of those who live on the Central Coast: Frank Kalman, executive director of the San Luis Obispo-based Kids’ Cancer Research Foundation, says that $34,500 in donations have been made to the foundation in the past week.

What an astounding outpouring of kindness!

If you would like to be a part of this miracle, you can donate by going to the foundation’s website at endkidscancer.org or give Frank a call at 550-7682.

What a wonderful boost for the birth of 2012: giving doctors and researchers the financial resources to put an end to childhood cancer and suffering.

Thank you for stepping up; you’re all magnificent.