Elizabeth Frame Bruce (Harris) Bauer: Veteran. Wife. Mother. Baker. Born July 5, 1925, in Scotland; died March 23, 2019, in Toronto, of vascular disease; aged 93.
Throughout her life, Elizabeth had various nicknames; “Bette” was used most widely. She was called “wee hen” or “bunty blue tail” to her Scottish mother as a child; “Harris," her surname, in the military; and “Red” when asked for a first dance by the man she would eventually marry (she was not amused but things quickly improved when she became his “Elizabeth the First”). But no matter what you called her, Bette had a giant, generous heart; with her, you knew you truly counted.
Born in Scotland, she moved early on with her family to Canada, where she became a Hamilton “mountain girl” and a Bell telephone operator after high school. During the Second World War, she joined the Royal Canadian Air Force Women’s Division, was trained in photography out west, then sent to Summerside, PEI. It was here, from behind a camera and beneath a dark cloth, that she shot photos of airmen, course by course. My father, AJ, was one of those pilots.
Postwar, they were released from the military and married soon after. Family life began; over time, three daughters arrived and amidst this, AJ rejoined the RCAF. The family was on the move. Bette adapted beautifully to this transient life, settling everyone smoothly.
In the mid-fifties, Bette crossed the Atlantic with her daughters to join AJ on a NATO base in Germany. She adapted readily when military housing required it. While waiting months to get a vacuum cleaner, for example, she enlisted her children’s help by offering them five pfennigs for every 20 bits of fluff picked up from the floor.
As a military wife, she learned to be always diplomatic, graciously meeting queens, princes, prime ministers – even those she never voted for. She was also known to offer anyone a helping hand with the gentle phrase, “let me show you a little trick I learned.”
While she may have been small (five feet tall in heels), she was also mighty. One Sunday, while at church on base, she heard a jet crash on the runway. What must she have endured, knowing that her husband was one of only two pilots flying that day? Bette had backbone in spades.
She rarely withdrew from a challenge, but had one memorable incident of defeat. During her first and only ski lesson in 1962, she accidentally enrolled in an advanced class and suddenly found herself atop a German alp. Two things saved her: knowing how to quickly remove her skis and how to loudly say “nein.”
Bette was a butter-tart baker like no other, always having her own frozen pastry on hand to whip up a batch. She also loved bridge, bingo and classic movies. Rarely without a book, she reread her favourites over the decades; when not reading books, she clipped newspaper articles – political ones especially – to share with others. I remember often getting thick envelopes from her in the mail; hidden inside an inch of newspaper cuttings was her “letter”: generally four written lines on the back of a used, bridge-tally card.
Beloved by us all, she was broken-hearted when AJ died suddenly last year. Perhaps whenever contrails are overhead, it’s Bette and AJ zigzagging together across the sky. They are missed fiercely.
Nancy Blair is Bette’s middle daughter.
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