March 19, 1930 – October 26, 2021
Legendary Jacksonville hostess and artist, passionate donor and fundraiser, giver of exquisite and stunning costumes and avid traveler of the world, Betsy Ross Lovett was a shining star and one in a million. Betsy passed away on October 26, 2021, but her bright light continues to shine through the many lives she has touched.
Born in St. Vincent’s on March 19, 1930, Betsy fell seriously ill at the age of nine and also underwent surgery in St. Vincent’s. A particular drug, as well as an arm-to-arm transfusion from a firefighter, saved his life. âAll my life I have wanted to do something for this hospital,â Betsy once said. Years later, she registered her name on the surgery and research center there. “My mother always said I should be left on this earth for something good.”
At the age of 12, Betsy knitted âBundles for Britainâ with her grandmother – 8-inch squares that were made into quilts for WWII soldiers – and rolled bandages. She remembered giving out ration coupons to needy families. These selfless acts shaped Betsy’s heart and led her to a life of dedicated community service and prolific philanthropy.
Betsy is a graduate of Lee High School and UNC Chapel Hill. She married industrialist William Dow Lovett, also of Jacksonville. Betsy loved her “Billy”.
Betsy’s community roles spanned the gamut of organizations. She has served as president of the Cowford Ball, the annual benefit of the American Cancer Society, and honorary president of “ExZOOberation”. She donated two black bears, Betsy and Billy Bear, to the Jacksonville Zoo.
Her 14 years on the board of trustees of the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens included two years as the board’s first female chair. She served as Chair of the Cummer Board, chaired the Cummer Ball and Auction, and revived the tradition of the annual Christmas Tree Show. She offered the name of the Meissen gallery in honor of her husband.
She was an advisor to the Jacksonville Museum of Modern Art (now MOCA) opening gala in 2004 and a member of the Super Bowl 2005 host committee. At the Jacksonville Historical Society, Betsy served as vice president and started the party. Annual Christmas.
Notorious and self-proclaimed “storyteller,” Betsy loved stories, books and libraries. She chaired the opening gala for the New Jacksonville Public Library, where she served on the Board of Trustees and established the Betsy Lovett Court. She chaired the Jacksonville Public Library Foundation from 2007 to 2010.
Betsy’s dear friend Robin Albaneze, current President of the Wolfson Children’s Hospital Women’s Council, recalled: âBetsy was an amazing woman who lived her life to the fullest. I first got to know him by co-chairing the opening of the Library. There were so many stops and starts with the project that we went from a committee of 20 to a committee of five. It didn’t bother Betsy! She brought everything from flowers to food to bagpipes! “
His years of involvement with St. Vincent include the Betsy Lovett Surgical Center and primary donation for the Lung Institute. She was also a member of the Women’s Board of Directors at Wolfson Children’s Hospital, where she supported medical programs and equipment for the children.
She has charted the trajectory of many artists in the region, donating to the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, the Episcopal Children’s Services, the Jacksonville Arts and Music School and the University of Jacksonville. She established the Betsy Ross Lovett Center for the Arts at Bolles School Bartram Campus and has served as a trustee.
Betsy received the 2010 Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville Individual Hall of Fame Award, the second ever to be awarded. She received the EVE Lifetime Achievement Award from the Florida Times Union for her service to the community.
Betsy was an accomplished sniper who enjoyed outdoor adventures including African safaris and hunting with the King of Spain. She enjoyed hunting and fishing on her large plantation in North Florida and was an avid environmentalist. She has supported organizations such as St. Johns Riverkeeper, Ducks Unlimited and The Nature Conservancy. One of her greatest accomplishments, she considered her success in blocking the construction of a hazardous waste facility that would have endangered the Florida aquifer.
Betsy loved her farm. She said this was the place she was going to feed her soul. She even once called it her âchurchâ.
While her extravagant, exuberant personality and huge heart reminded of Aunt Mame, Betsy was even more adorable. She cherished people, and people adored her. Those who knew and loved Betsy were all “dahlin” to her.
Her dear friend Ward Lariscy said: âBetsy was larger than life and always made everyone feel that she had known them forever. Her favorite expression was âCheers! and she held up her glass of champagne. And by the end of the evening the glass was still almost full, because she didn’t have time to sip it to speak. She loved the costumes, and we drove her Rolls Royce with Betsy in flapper gear across the Buckman Bridge as she waved at the royal wave of scared people walking past us, wondering who this celebrity was. Health my friends! “
Indeed, she was known for these costumes, some of which borrowed from the Santa Fe Opera. She dressed up as Betsy Ross and Miss Victory in school growing up, and the passion grew from there. For the American Cancer Society, she was once Annie Oakley. Another year, she was a Western lady in a lighted garter and shoes holding a shootout with Sheriff John Rutherford, who handcuffed her and took her to a “jail cell” with an old toilet bowl filled with ice and soap. Champagne. âWhy don’t you dress up and be silly if that can help an organization?â Betsy said.
Betsy’s philanthropic efforts have also taken her outside of North Florida. She was president of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in Florida, and a member of the board of directors of Dumbarton House in Washington and Sulgrave Manor, the ancestral home of George Washington. Betsy was vice-chair of the board of directors of Venetian Heritage, Inc., an international catering organization co-founded by her brother-in-law, Laurence Dow Lovett, and previously served on the board of directors of Save Venice.
Even with her glamorous life, Betsy’s heart was made of humility and love for others. When she received the EVE Lifetime Achievement Award, she said that everyone in this audience deserved it and that she was the recipient of it only for them. âThere is nothing in life that you can do without a support system,â Betsy said.
Betsy thought the Jacksonville community was âamazingâ. âI have traveled all over South America, Africa and Europe. I have met many members of the royal family and attended birthday parties at Kensington Palace. But I always came back to Jacksonville to find the most beautiful, the happiest, the most wonderful place. It is the river. It’s the people. We are fortunate to have what we have here in Jacksonville. Hope people realize this.
Betsy is survived by two daughters, Elizabeth Lovett Colledge (Frank Denton) and Anne Lovett Jennings (Jim); seven grandchildren; six great-grandchildren; his sister Caroline Ross Burroughs and several nieces and nephews. She loved her longtime caretaker and head of household, CJ Farrell.
Contributions can be made to one of the causes dear to Betsy’s heart.