I know, I know: the death of Betty White on New Year’s Eve 2021 feels like this all-around awful year is ending with one last gut punch.
Betty was a national treasure.
She was one of the funniest people on the planet, and she spent her life blazing trails and doing good. So, if we’ve learned anything from our long laugh affair with her, we should seize this as a chance to make the world a kinder, friendlier, funnier, more-loving place.
Let’s all resolve to be more like Betty.
Here are some of the lessons we can take from the woman who loved people so much that she was once described as the human version of the golden retriever:
1. Timing is everything.
Impeccable timing is what made Betty White such a wonderful comedian. That timing carried over to her death: Just short of her 100th birthday, on the cusp of a documentary celebrating her 100 years, she died leaving us wanting more.
And, as she just about the only thing people are talking about tonight, there will likely be millions of toasts to her, and remembrances of the joy she brought to the world.
2. Keep working, even if it’s on something small
If it weren’t for the pandemic, I am guessing Betty White would be appearing in something. When she was 91, she was awarded the Guinness World Record for the longest TV career with 74 years on the small screen.
Though she was reportedly riding out the pandemic at her home, she was staying busy with phone calls and letters and crossword puzzles.
About those crossword puzzles: Betty told Katie Couric that she was an “admitted addict.”
“I’m addicted,” she said. “I just can’t put ‘em down.”
(Now I don’t feel so bad about my Words With Friends addiction, especially if it will help keep me as sharp as Betty.)
In an interview with CNN in 2017, Betty said she would go to her grave saying, “Can I come in and read for that tomorrow?”
At 88, she was the oldest person to ever host Saturday Night Live.
3. Serve your fellow humans.
Did you know that Betty White put her entertainment career on hold to join the American Women’s Voluntary Services at the beginning of WWII? She was a truck driver, delivering supplies to units preparing to ship to the Pacific from mobilization bases in California, and she spent her nights at dances organized to give soldiers a grand send-off before they shipped out
4. It’s not all about you: Think of others first.
Betty cited kindness as one way to stay young.
“Kindness and consideration of somebody besides yourself … keeps you feeling young,” she told Katie Couric in an interview for her 95th birthday.
So, think about your family, your friends, and people you don’t even know, and realize that what you do directly affects someone else.
5. Don’t be racist.
When “The Betty White Show” debuted in 1954, Betty faced a potential boycott from stations in the South because the daytime variety show featured a Black series regular in Arthur Duncan, a young singer and dancer.
In a PBS documentary, Betty recounted what she did. “I said, I’m sorry. Live with it.”
And then she gave Duncan even more air time.
6. Break some ground
In addition for giving Betty the chance to take a stand against racism, “The Betty White Show” made her the first woman to produce a national television show, and, in turn, the first producer to hire a female director. She was also the first woman to star in a sitcom, and the first woman to receive an Emmy nomination.
7. Look for the great stuff
Betty described herself as a “cock-eyed optimist.”
In a 2018 interview with Parade Magazine, Betty said the key to a long life is to “accentuate the positive, not the negative.”
“It sounds so trite, but a lot of people will pick out something to complain about, rather than say, ‘Hey, that was great,’” she said. “It’s not hard to find great stuff if you look.”
8. Always look on the bright side of life
“I know it sounds corny, but I try to see the funny side and the upside, not the downside,” Betty said in an interview. “I get bored with people who complain about this or that. It’s such a waste of time.”
9. Treat yourself
Betty White once jokingly said one of the secrets to her long life is that she never ate anything green. She also professed to loving vodka and hot dogs, “probably in that order.”
“Even though Betty was about to be 100, I thought she would live forever,” said White’s agent and friend, Jeff Witjas, in an interview with People. “I will miss her terribly and so will the animal world that she loved so much. I don’t think Betty ever feared passing because she always wanted to be with her most beloved husband Allen Ludden. She believed she would be with him again.”
So, let’s raise a glass to pay tribute to the trailblazing woman who made us laugh, and instead of cursing 2021 for taking her from us, let’s embrace 2022 with her joie de vivre.