Roots and Wings
Sometimes, it is not one extraordinary thing that leaves a mark on this world. It is a number of small ordinary kindnesses, which truly make a difference in the lives of others.Betty London was one of these “ordinary extraordinary” people.
Her friends and family describe her in the following ways: Adventurous. Kind. Caring. Good listener. Earth-friendly. Active. Creative. Funny.
London passed away recently at the age of 90. Active until the end, she could often be seen tending to a 2-mile stretch of Washougal River Road, picking up bottles, cans and other garbage that was carelessly tossed away by others. She encouraged her friends and family to, “leave this a better place than when you found it.”
“She had the gift to make the ordinary extraordinary, not only for herself, but for everyone with whom she crossed paths,” said son Richard (Rit) London. “She said we had wings, so go fly.”
Rit, the second of three boys born to Betty and her husband, Richard, has made adventure his life.
From remote camping in the woods at a young age to biking to San Francisco on a whim, to living in remote parts of the world as a medical officer for the Peace Corps, Rit thanks his mother for encouraging him to pursue his passions.
“I’ve lived and worked in more than 20 countries around the world and traveled to countless remote locations,” he said. “My mom instilled in me the courage to live my life fully, to not only travel and see the world, but to find the way that only I could leave the world a better place than the way I initially found it.”
Ellen London, Rit’s wife, met him in 1974 while they were volunteering to work with blind adults on the East Coast. Two months later, she moved out west to be with him.
“I had never been anywhere beyond Pennsylvania before,” she said. “I was a bit nervous to meet Rit’s parents and they were both just wonderful to me. My parents died at a fairly young age, so Betty became my mom. She really listened to you, a lost art these days. She could also read between the lines of a conversation and hone in on what you liked or were passionate about. She did that with everybody.”
Ellen and Rit married and joined the Peace Corps, where Rit has been ever since. While volunteering in Lesotho in 1978, Betty traveled there to visit, staying in a thatched roof hut in the middle of the bush. Traveling also took Betty and Richard to Morocco and Ethiopia.
Her granddaughter, Krista London Couture, remembers her as an “extraordinary woman.”
“She was the consummate diplomat, scholar, life student, and friend to everyone that had the pleasure of knowing her,” she said.
She remembers her grandmother, “Oma” as a storyteller, conversationalist and pioneer: Whether it was the adventure of raising three active boys, growing up in Panama, or recounting stories she’d learned trying to piece together the family genealogy.
“Oma was the family historian,” Couture recalled. “She spent nearly six decades piecing together the London and Bradley family history. Her curiosity took her to family reunions in Belt Buckle, Tennessee; little villages of Scotland; the Berkley Castle in the UK and historic societies in Germany.”
Betty London was born Aug. 19, 1922, in the Canal Zone, Panama, where her father was foreman of the Western Locks. After attending college in Santa Barbara for a few years, she joined the Navy. Afterward, she returned home to Panama and met Richard, who was in the Navy. The couple lived in California and Washington, where Betty raised her three boys. Her sense of adventure continued, even if it was in the small things of life.
Eldest son Brad London recalls his mom taking him and his little brothers, all under the age of 8 years old, camping in the woods for days at a time.
“Even when my dad had to work and couldn’t go, she would take us anyway,” he said. “She coined the term, ‘Just do it,’ long before Nike ever did. Everything she did, she had fun with it. Her attitude was, ‘What can I discover today?’”
As a mom in her late 30s, Betty started putting on weight and wasn’t too happy about it, Brad recalled. So she decided to make a life change that indeed, lasted a lifetime. She joined Weight Watchers and began walking daily. This habit continued after she moved to the 7 mile marker of Washougal River Road 34 years ago.
“She was very active right up until the end of her life,” Brad said. “She would walk River Road every day and pick up trash, as well as other objects of interest. One time she found $20. Another time she found syringes. When we were little and went camping, she would have us pick up 20 items of trash and put them in the garbage. She was environmentally friendly long before it was popular.”
Rod London was the youngest of the three boys.
“It was always an adventure,” he said. “She taught all of us to drive in her Volkswagen and she loved our crazy dress up Thanksgiving gatherings. You didn’t have to be family, she took you in. You felt loved. You could stop in and have a chat any time. You left feeling good.”
The themed Thanksgiving gatherings began in 1990 after Betty suggested an alternative to the traditional Thanksgiving meal and football.
“The meal was still the same wonderful feast, but we haven’t turned on any football games since then,” said Terri London, her daughter-in-law. “Our first theme was ‘tacky.’”
Other more memorable themes included “musicians,” complete with karaoke, “stone age/caveman” and “pairs or two of a kind,” where Betty and her husband came as “black and blue,” dressed head to toe in that color.
While her relatives and friends have different memories, one trait they all agree on is Betty’s ability to listen, and gently guide someone in the right direction.
Rick Danis, a boyhood friend of Rit’s, said Betty had a profound influence on his life.
“She was a very positive person,” he said. “She had a huge influence in my decision to go to college. When I graduated from high school, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I didn’t think I could afford college, so she told me about student loans. She got me pointed in the right direction.”
Danis and Rit’s adventures included going camping alone, while still in high school, for a week at a time. When they graduated, the two decided to ride their bikes to Lincoln City, Ore.
“Our parents gave us permission, and Betty wasn’t too sure about it but encouraged us to go,” he said. “When we got there, we called from a pay phone to see if they’d let us ride to San Jose. They did, and we made it to San Francisco before Rit’s brake cables gave out.”
Another adventure was hitchhiking to Michigan to visit Danis’s parents.
“Our parents were nervous, but they encouraged us to spread our wings and fly, especially Betty,” he said. “She instilled a sense of travel and adventure in us.”
Betty Bradley London died Jan. 29. At her service, Couture read the anonymous poem, “Life,” which she said captures her grandmother’s personality perfectly.“Find a passion and pursue it. Fall in love. Dream big. Drink (cheap boxed wine). Spend quality time with good friends. Laugh everyday. Believe in magic. Believe is something, anything. Tell stories. Reminisce about the good old days but look with optimism to the future. Travel often. Learn more. Be creative. Spend time with people you admire. Seize opportunities when they reveal themselves. Love with all your heart. Never give up. Do what you love. Be true to who you are. Make time to enjoy the simple things in life. Spend time with family. Forgive, even when it’s hard. Smile often. Be grateful. Be the challenge you wish to see in the world. Follow your dreams. Try new things. Work hard. Be thankful. Be nice to everyone. Be happy. Live for today, but save for tomorrow. And, above all....make every moment count.”