Marlboro - It is with great sadness that we report the death of Betsy MacArthur (Elizabeth W. MacArthur) of Marlboro, Vermont on February 9, 2018. Betsy was an artist, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, and a friend to many. Betsy died quietly in her home after a brief illness, surrounded by her family.
Betsy was born Elizabeth Bayles Whittemore in Hingham, Massachusetts in 1933. Her father, Arthur E. Whittemore, was a lawyer and later a judge on the Massachusetts Supreme Court, and her mother, Suvia P. Whittemore, was active in the League of Women Voters on national water policy issues. Betsy had an older sister, Suvia Judd, of Marlboro, and an older brother, Arthur P. (Pat) Whittemore, also of Marlboro, who both predeceased her. Betsy graduated from Westtown School in Pennsylvania in 1950, and from Smith College in 1954, magna cum laude, with a major in Botany. She was offered a job at the New York Botanic Garden. Although she did not pursue a career in botany, she continued to love plants and remember the Latin names for many of them.
Betsy’s parents had ties to Marlboro and she had spent her summers in a cabin on the hill between South Road and South Pond. When she was fifteen, she met her future husband, Robert H. MacArthur, at a square dance at the Marlboro Meeting House. Three years later, in 1952, she and Robert married. They had four children, Duncan, Alan, Lizzie (Elizabeth), and Don (Donald). Over the years they lived in places from Fort Huachuca, AZ and Oxford, England, to Glen Mills,PA and Princeton, NJ, following Robert’s career as a biology professor, generally accompanied by a multitude of dogs and cats. But every summer they spent at their cabin without electricity or plumbing on the shore of South Pond. Betsy was famous at Ames Hill Beach for arriving once a week with the shopping from Brattleboro, honking three times, and waiting for other family members to paddle across the lake in the canoe to pick up the groceries. Robert died of cancer in 1972, and in some ways Betsy never fully got over his death. He continued to be an important presence in her heart and mind for the rest of her life.
Betsy was a devoted mother to her four children. While they were in school she was home every afternoon to serve tea and cookies and talk about the day. The family ate dinner together virtually every night until the children left for college. Once the children were scattered across the U.S., their visits were among Betsy's greatest pleasures. She also loved calls and letters and proudly told visitors of her family’s latest accomplishments. Betsy’s last big trip was for the first wedding of a grandchild, Colin’s marriage to Heather Yang, in Santa Fe, NM, accompanied by her friend and caregiver Rose Watson.
After Robert’s death, Betsy and her children settled in Marlboro year-round, in a house on South Road that had belonged to Betsy’s grandfather, Lewis Paton. During Betsy’s years in Princeton, she had begun developing an interest in art, and after the move to Marlboro art played an increasingly central role in Betsy’s life. Betsy also faced some challenges from her bipolar disorder at this phase of her life. Before his death Robert had built a studio with north-facing windows in the field next to Betsy’s grandfather’s house. Once settled in Marlboro, Betsy painted regularly up at her studio and enrolled in art classes at Windham College. Betsy’s work was shown at a variety of exhibit spaces in Marlboro, Brattleboro, and Newfane, as well as in Berkeley, California during the year she spent caring for her first grandson.
Betsy’s paintings were vibrant, bold, and filled with energy. Her favorite subjects were people, flowers, and her own fields, woods, and house. Many of the portraits were of herself, and they are both stunning and unsettling. Betsy loved to share her art with other people, and in later years she often gave away paintings, or sold them for $25 each to get them out into people’s houses where they could be enjoyed.
As much as for her gorgeous paintings, Betsy will be remembered for the warm welcome she offered to every person who came to her house, whether for an hour or for several years. She often shared her house and outbuildings with friends or with tenants who became friends. She was also remarkably generous with anyone who stopped by for a chat, whether the people who worked on her house, or local friends of many years, or friends from earlier epochs of her life who made the trip to visit her, or her children and grandchildren. In the last few years of her life, Betsy was cared for in her home by many wonderful caregivers who also became close friends. Betsy would offer a delighted smile of greeting to anyone arriving, followed by tea and conversation. She so loved bright colors that many visitors deliberately chose their brightest outfits when stopping by, and Betsy would invariably comment enthusiastically on their palette.
Betsy is survived by her four children (Duncan MacArthur and wife Nancy, of White Rock, NM; Alan MacArthur and wife Stephanie, of Gaithersburg, MD; Elizabeth MacArthur and husband William Warner, of Goleta, CA; and Donald MacArthur and wife Jennifer Waltz, of Missoula, MT); eight grandchildren: Colin (Duncan’s son), Robert, James, and Will (Alan), Nathaniel and Emma (Lizzie), and Dylan and Evan (Don); and six nieces and nephews.
A memorial service and show of Betsy’s art will take place in July 2018 in Marlboro.
In lieu of flowers, donations in Betsy's name should be made to the Marlboro Alliance, P.O. Box 165, Marlboro, VT 05344.