Betty Tillotson

Apr 7, 2018
Betty Tillotson, 92, a community elder, writer, activist, publisher, mentor and matriarch, passed away April 7, after a life committed to thinking globally and acting locally.

Betty was born in Toledo, Ohio, and attended the University of Redlands, in California, where she graduated as one of the highest-achieving women in the country, in 1947.

“While at Redlands,” according to her daughter, Jane Tillotson, of Nelson. “She evolved from her fundamentalist upbringing and joined the Society of Friends … Quakers.”

“Eventually, she would find her true home in Argenta, where she was a central figure in the life of that community for almost five decades,” she said.

The entire Tillotson family – Betty, husband Olin, and their five children, moved from California to White Rock, in 1967 as a reaction to the Vietnam War. All seven Tillotsons became citizens and made Canada home.

Always a pacifist, in Vancouver Betty worked with the Committee to Aid American War Objectors.

“Her life was a model for those who imagine a better world,” said Tillotson.

When Betty and Olin Tillotson divorced, Betty moved with the four of her children still at home to Argenta, in 1972. She knew through Friends that this was a place where she would find similarly committed folks. She bought a house with 25 acres, opted to welcome others in a co-op, and those with whom she shared the land became her extended family. She applied her fresh UBC education degree with her children and others at the Argenta Friends School and boarded a succession of students in her home, many of whom maintained an abiding connection with Betty throughout her life.

Not long after her arrival in Argenta, Betty became involved with the publication The Smallholder, “an exchange of ideas and information of interest to country people,” which began in 1974. Betty did most of the editing and typing until the publication’s last issue in 2012. Betty lived her life by Smallholder principles. She was the editor of the 1992 book Skills for Simple Living, which was a compendium of the best articles and resources from the magazine. It was reprinted and remains available today as a source for people seeking to live in harmony with the earth and one another.

While Argenta represented a return to the land for her, it in no way reduced her engagement with the wider world, her daughter said.

“She continued her commitment to repairing the world as an outspoken grassroots activist and ally on issues of the environment, human rights, gender equality and other progressive causes,” Jane Tillotson said. “As a writer, advocate and force of nature, Mom’s political involvement went beyond the theoretical. She attended and organized rallies, risked arrest and loaded her VW van with her kids, drove over the border to Washington state and brought war resisters, including military deserters, to Canada, claiming them as family. In her worldview, this was not a mistruth.”

The land-sharing group gardened organically and most of Betty’s meals came from the land adjacent to her log home, which was, without hyperbole, filled with magazines and books.

More than 20 years ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She chose to treat it as she did all of her ailments: organically. Despite the reservations of family members, she survived without a recurrence (or ever seeing a conventional cancer doctor again).

An avid world traveller, Betty loved planning the next trip, reading about the history and culture of places she would visit, said her daughter. With her sister-in-law and beloved friend, Joan Tillotson, she visited Nepal, India, China, Greece, Turkey and many countries in Central and South America. Always travelling as frugally as possible, dwarfed by backpacks and staying in hostels, their last trip was to Italy when they were both well into their 80s. The stories and remembrances of those times, and especially of the exceptional, loving people these two extraordinary women attracted, helped sustain Betty in recent years as her body cruelly limited her mobility. Having kept detailed journals of her adventures, she was able to relive those experiences to the end.

“Betty was fiercely independent, extremely principled, caring, compassionate and always interested in listening and understanding,” said Jane Tillotson.

Her five children, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren will hold a celebration of Betty’s life in the Argenta Hall on Saturday, July 28, the day before she would have turned 93. All are welcome.

-By Pat Johnson, Betty Tillotson’s son-in-law.

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