Published: June 20, 2006
WEST HARTFORD, CONN. – Betty Dawson Forbes, formerly of East Hartford, died on Saturday June 17, a day before her 87th birthday, at Hughes Health and Rehabilitation. Betty was the daughter of the late Francis and Mattie Lou (Lumsden) Forbes, and was the last of the Forbeses to live most of her life in the Forbes family home (built in 1756) on Forbes Street. She was a descendant of Governor William Pitkin, the first governor of Connecticut.
She is survived by her nephew and his wife, Bruce and Betty Forbes of Old Saybrook, and their son and daughter and grandchildren, and her nieces Susan Forbes Hansen of West Hartford and Linda Hansen Turner of South Portland, Maine, and Linda’s son, daughter and grandchildren.
Betty worked at Pratt & Whitney during World War II, and later worked for several years at G. Fox & Co., as buyer in various departments. There she befriended the late writer Frances Phipps, with whom she started an antiques show production company, New England Antiques Shows. The crown jewel of the company, the Connecticut Antiques Shows, ran for many years at the Connecticut Armory, but moved to the Expo Center in 2003. After Phipps’ death the business partnership was joined by Linda Turner, who manages Forbes and Turner Shows today.
Betty was passionate about her family’s heritage and home and was a gardener who always bought too many flats of annuals. She loved the summer weeks she spent at Cape Cod with friends and family, she was generous to her nieces and nephew, and even late in her life she loved the music of her youth.
And the people who knew Betty were passionate about her. “For many years Betty and Fran ran a schedule of top shows and flea markets, catering to the well-established dealer and giving many newcomers an entrance into the business. Their shows were run by the rules, but at the same time they were relaxed and fun,” R. Scudder Smith, said. “Many years ago I exhibited at their Higganum flea market in the lot adjacent to Fran’s home and the best part of the day was the party after the market closed. That was a time for relaxing and one could hear Betty’s laugh from everywhere.”
Kathy Schoemer said, “She was the quintessential Yankee lady with all the little swirls and flourishes; great hair and that cigarette. A wonderful, wonderful human being and this business is richer because of her. She once left the Hartford show to take me and my daughter to the hospital when my daughter was having some sudden health problems. Betty just left everything, and stayed at our sides until my daughter was released. That was the kind of person she was.”
Lou Scranton recalled his very first show was Betty’s Hartford show, many years ago. “She was a kind and thoughtful lady, I just really liked her,” he said. He also mentioned she died one day before her 87th birthday – he always knew when her birthday was because it was one day after his.
Betty’s family would like to thank her caretakers at Hughes who have been so very kind, both to Betty and to her family.
A celebration of her life will be held at 10 am on Tuesday, June 27, at Newkirk and Whitney Funeral Home, 308 Burnside Avenue in East Hartford. Burial will take place after the ceremony.
Donations may be made in her name to two of Betty’s passions, the Connecticut Humane Society, 701 Russell Road, Newington CT 06111 (or its branches in Bethany, Waterford or Westport) or The Democratic National Party, 430 South Capitol Street, SE, Washington DC 20003.
I started helping my aunt Betty Forbes and Frances Phipps at their shows when I was in middle school. During an event I would man the show office when Betty or Frances was called to the floor. When Frances left the office I knew it would not be for long, but when Betty left and said she would “be right back,” I would roll my eyes, knowing she would be gone forever. She would problem-solve, smooth ruffled feathers if there was a sticky situation, and make sure everything and everyone was taken care of. On the way back to the office she would always seem to find someone anxious to chat, or maybe it was she who was anxious? Now I think of this dearly, and understand that it was her gregarious and warm nature that made her so approachable and thought of in such a fond way by so many.
She never had a bad opinion of anyone and always looked for the good in people (politicians aside). Speaking of politicians: one June in the 1980s Betty was celebrating her birthday in a Chatham, Mass., restaurant. Betty heard the birthday song being sung to someone in an adjacent private dining room. Friendly Betty decided she should go in and congratulate her fellow birthday person, entered the room just as the singing stopped, and said in a loud voice, “Who is the birthday person? I want to give you a birthday hug.” I wonder if Tip O’Neill told this story in the amused way Betty did. PS: she got the hug.
Over the years I have been told many stories about “the good old days” at the Higganum Flea Markets, the early Hartford shows and the other outdoor markets and the fun that was had by all. Many dealers credited Betty for giving them their start in the antiques show circuit. Some have gone on to become top names in the antiques world and some are still “dabbling” on the occasional weekend, but both appreciate her support when they first tried getting into shows.
Betty was diagnosed with dementia 12 years ago. She stopped doing shows about ten years ago and had been living at a facility in West Hartford for the past eight years.
In recent years she didn’t seem to remember her family but did respond to hugs and kisses with a big smile. I think that warm part of her remained even though the other emotions didn’t, and I will always remember her as the most loving person I have ever met.
This is the memory of Betty that I carry in my heart and that perfectly captures the way I think of her: One morning during set up at the Glastonbury Antiques Festival we were trying unsuccessfully to direct the driver of a large truck to his hard-to-get-to space. Betty finally said, “Oh, come on – I’ll show you!”
Already in her 70s at the time, she jumped onto the running board, grabbed hold of the side mirror, and went bouncing down the field, her blond hair flying and her face lit by her big trademark grin as she chatted with the driver. Linda and I looked at each other and said simultaneously, “That’s the way I want to be when I’m her age!”
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