Sophie Nulph is a senior magazine journalism major and writes “Open-Minded” for The Daily News. Her views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper.
My paternal grandparents passed away when I was in middle school. In a storybook tragedy, my grandfather got sick, and my grandmother became so absorbed in taking care of him she failed to see her own health declining. When she died at the end of 2008, weeks away from their 55th wedding anniversary, my grandfather’s heart broke. He died 16 months later, begging to be reunited with his best friend.
With my maternal grandparents hundreds of miles away and my paternal grandparents suddenly only visiting me in my dreams, a hole started to form in my heart that could only be filled with a raspy voice and white wispy set of curls, until my mom brought home a new movie with the groceries one day.
“The Proposal” looked light-hearted enough, and my family gathered around our couch with our popcorn to fit in a laugh before our heads hit the pillow that night. This was my first experience with Betty White’s work, and it is safe to say I quickly became infatuated with the sex-obsessed grandma hell bent on getting her way. I watched the movie on the giant monitor tower my family gave me almost every night going to bed, and after the family computer was upgraded to a laptop Betty lived there, helping me go to sleep.
It wasn’t until college I began expanding myself to her other works. Betty not only helped fill my sorrows
as a young kid, she traveled down the road and back again with me. She was with me as Rose, from “The Golden Girls,” while I finished my projects at 3 a.m. She was with me when I felt the loneliest I ever felt; reminding me my strength comes in finding myself, and she was with me in the middle of the night, when my ulcer kept me up for hours on end.
The half-eaten cookie-shaped hole in my heart was filled by the witty personality on the screen, but I was not alone. Betty filled the grandmother, mother and friend role needed by so many generations of women before me.
Defying the misogynistic odds, she paved a path for women in Hollywood through career advancements and advocacy. Betty hosted a number of reality shows before making her way into the production side of acting. Her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame embeds the empowerment Betty emanated — while pioneering the production industry and advocating for the LGBTQ+ community a decade later, she always made sure to include everyone in her family.
She helped fuel my love of animals and fighting for the voices that can’t speak up. I always rescued animals as a kid, but she educated me on why it’s so necessary to adopt rather than shop. Betty was an active member of the Los Angeles Zoo Commission, the Morris Animal Foundation, the Farm Animal Reform Movement, Actors & Others for Animals and Friends for Animals, and through her involvement in organizations like these, she taught me and so many others the importance of loving our neighbors in nature.
“I'm not into animal rights. I'm only into animal welfare and health. I've been with the Morris Animal Foundation since the '70s. We're a health organization. We fund campaign health studies for dogs, cats, lizards and wildlife,” White said in a Q&A with TV Guide in 2009.
As someone famed for timing, Betty White knew how to make her exit. In her final memoriam to her 83 years of award winning performances, produced shows and movies, Betty left the world with just as impactful an exit as all the others she made throughout the past eight decades.
Upon hearing the news of her passing on the very last day of a year many of us wished to end, we felt 2021 take away with it one more thing, and that was the comfort of knowing Betty was still around as a shoulder to lean on when it felt like we didn’t have anywhere else to turn.
Without her around, not only will TV and movies seem to be missing the sassy, curly-haired tiny woman we all adore, but advocacy groups everywhere will feel the loss of having an overwhelmingly loud voice standing in their corner.
But Betty wouldn’t want cobwebs to form where she made her arguments strong — she would want us to be just as loud as she once was, and people are already beginning to step up. Before her passing, Betty had planned to celebrate by releasing a retrospective documentary that will still be released to memorialize her career in the industry. To celebrate her 100th birthday and passing, millions of fans from multiple generations are helping donate to animals in need in honor of the actress. This trend, called The Betty White Challenge, has already raised more than $550,000 to animal rescue organizations around the country. Even in death, she wanted no creature to be alone.
Betty, thank you for being a friend.
Contact Sophie with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @nulphsophie.