Bette Berman Arnold
Born in Boston, Bette Berman graduated from Girls Latin School and from Simmons College, where she majored in psychology. After marrying band leader Chappie Arnold in 1941, she sang with his band and helped him manage other artists. When their two daughters reached school age, they started a bus company. The marriage ended amicably, and in 1975 she married Robert Charles. Together they ran another bus company, but her real claim to fame was as owner of Bette’s Rolls Royce, a restaurant near Faneuil Hall famous for the yellow Rolls parked outside and for the equally colorful proprietress inside.
These reminiscences are adapted from remarks given by Judith Cowin at her mother’s graveside service on May 26, 2011.
My mother was quite a person. She was first and foremost a wonderful mother. Her central qualities for me were how hard she worked and how loving she was. She and my father, like many of our parents, worked very hard to make a better life for their family. They taught us that we could accomplish anything if we just worked hard enough and never gave up. They also taught us by example to treat everyone fairly and kindly. My mother had a huge heart and unbounded love for people. In return, she engendered great affection from everyone who knew her.
My mother was my advisor as a child and young adult. She guided me in all my decisions. My mother, my father, and I, and eventually my husband would sit around and discuss life-shaping matters—such as, where I should go to college, whether I should go to law school, whether I should become an Assistant District Attorney.
My mother was also an advisor to my friends. She continued as an advisor to younger people all her life. She knew that relationships did not have to be defined by age. As she grew older, she had numerous younger friends who shared many good times with her. While their chronological ages were different, their attitude and outlooks were similar. My mother’s attitudes never grew old. Her outlook was always young.
She was not only a great mother, but also one of the city of Boston’s great characters…She was a powerhouse and positive thinker. I learned so much from her. She was rough but so generous.
Her restaurant was staffed by college students who adored her. These people now live all over the world and they welcome into their homes what they call “second and third generation Bettes” to help re-pay my mother for the affection, advice, and guidance she gave them.
My mother’s lack of sleep was legendary. It came about because, as in everything else, she would not compromise. If she wanted to do seven things but had time for only three, she would do all seven; the only thing to be sacrificed would be sleep. As she always told me and [my sister], “Live every day as if it were your last.”
My mother was a visionary and anticipated major social movements we now take for granted but few people understood at the time. She always scoffed at us if we referred to her as an emancipator of women or as a women’s liberator because she didn’t feel that she needed to be emancipated or liberated. She had a career in the 1940s and 50s when it was not common for women to work in business or in the professions.
She always treated everyone equally regardless of race, gender, class, or age. She knew innately that these things were right. It took society a full generation or more to catch up with her. This foresight extended to her business acumen.
Her foresight extended even to food. She was partial to yogurt, plain yogurt, 50 years before it became a staple for many people. (It was always in our refrigerator when I was growing up.) The same was true for sushi and tapas.
My mother accomplished all these things without being unhappy. She was one of the happiest, warmest, most fulfilled people I have ever known.
There was of course one great tragedy in my mother’s life. My sister was killed in an automobile accident in 1970 at the age of 25. My mother was devastated as any of us would be but she made the best of it, as she did with all situations. My sister’s husband remained with us. My mother treated him and later his new wife and their daughter as members of our extended family.
She poured as much into one lifetime as it was possible to do. She missed nothing. Missing out on anything was not on her agenda. And she gave and received the great gift. She loved and lived to the fullest every minute of her life.