Professional fundraiser, advice giver, proud grandmother. Born on Aug. 24, 1940, in Antrim, Ont.; died on Oct. 16, 2013, in Picton, Ont., of cancer; aged 73.
Betsy Clarke was a woman of precise words, a detail-oriented professional with a zest for language. An English teacher for many years, she had an determined command of the language.
To many friends and family she was affectionately known as “Betsy Scissorhands“ – you never wanted to read a newspaper after her, because many articles would have been cut out to send to others.
A stickler for proper etiquette and ethical behaviour, she never hesitated to let you know her views on whatever subject was at hand. I met her more than 30 years ago when she was the executive director of the Canadian 4H Council and often found myself in dust-ups with her, but these were mainly about political issues (upon which we rarely agreed!) and were usually put aside.
Yet this died-in-the-wool Conservative, who came from a rural upbringing in the Ottawa Valley, became one of my most liberal-minded friends. Life was not easy when she grew up on the farm in Antrim, but her transformation to the professional world was remarkable. She embraced the causes of abused women, the elderly, the disadvantaged and gays and lesbians. She hosted meetings of a group of professional women in the not-for-profit sector, known as the Four Furies. As a professional fundraiser, she helped raise millions of dollars for many good public causes.
She was a graduate of Queen’s University but agriculture was in her blood from day one. She became the manager of the Carp Agricultural Society (which stages a popular annual fair) at a young age, and then a teacher of English at Laurentian High School in Ottawa.
After her divorce from the father of her two sons, Brad and Dan, she moved on as a single mother and soon found her dream job as head of the Canadian 4H Council in Ottawa.
In 1991, she established Betsy Clarke and Associates, consultants in philanthropy, after a short stint with John Bouza, a recognized leader in fundraising. She managed many major campaigns for a variety of charitable organizations and she helped raise money for projects she believed in and was committed to, including the building of a senior citizens home, housing for homeless women, numerous museum projects, and the restoration of churches in Ottawa.
In later life, she did considerable professional work for the Anglican Church of Canada including St. Matthew’s in Ottawa, among others. She rejoined the church and became a major volunteer and donor. Always close to her entire family, she spent as much time as she could with “the best little boys in the world,” grandsons Lucas and Callum.
Along with her strong-willed determination to improve the lives of others, Betsy was a loyal and devoted friend. You always knew where you stood with Betsy, and where she stood with you. The day she parted ways with the 4H council, I was there for her, as she asked me to be. In turn, she was there for me when my mother died in Rothesay, N.B. What more could you ask for in a good friend?
John McAvity is a friend of Betsy.
Follow us on Twitter: