1939 - 2020
Elizabeth Harbin Hunter died at home in New York City on Tuesday, April 7, 2020.
Elizabeth Coghill Harbin, known to most as Betsy, was born in Rome, Georgia, on July 22, 1939, the daughter of Elizabeth Coghill Warner and William Pickens Harbin, Jr., M.D. She graduated from Rome High School in 1957 and earned a B.A. in English Literature from Hollins College in 1961. In 1959 she spent the year in Paris as part of the Hollins Abroad program.
On August 10, 1963, she married John Graham Hunter. They lived in Devon, Pennsylvania while John attended Wharton Business School and Betsy taught French at a local elementary school. In 1964, their daughter Garland was born. After graduation, John was offered jobs in Atlanta and New York. Betsy urged him to take the job in New York because, she said later, "I didn't want the Junior League telling me what to do for the rest of my life."
In 1965, they moved to Brooklyn, where their second daughter, Anna Graham, was born in 1968. In 1974, Betsy began working as a copywriter for House and Garden Guides. In 1980 she became a writer for House Beautiful, where she was promoted to senior editor with a focus on travel and garden stories and where she won and was nominated for several Quill & Trowel awards.
At the same time she went back to work, she embarked on the project of raising feminist daughters and restructuring household chores in an attempt to make them equal. Each family member had a night when they were responsible for cooking dinner, the younger daughter when she was barely tall enough to see over the kitchen counter.
In crowded rooms, people of all ages and genders gravitated toward Betsy because of her quick wit, charisma, and ability to zero in on exactly the subject that would get someone talking excitedly. At the same time, she also craved solitude to recharge and indulge passions that became obsessions, from all things Bloomsbury to Martha Gellhorn to Dorothy Sayers to "Law & Order" reruns.
In 1985, Betsy and John moved to an apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where they remained until they died ("Carry me out feet first," they each said when asked about their wishes). In retirement, both were active in the local preservation movement, serving as a members of the West End Preservation Society.
Betsy was survived by John, who died thirty-three days after she did. Other survivors include daughters Elizabeth Garland Hunter and Anna Graham Hunter, grandson Isen Warner Hunter Ritchie, son-in-law Matthew Ritchie, sister Anna Phillips Harbin, niece Katherine Warner Hunter, and nephews William Frierson Hunter and John Edmundson Turner. Two younger sisters died before Betsy: Mary Shelor Harbin and Louisa Harbin Hunter (Louisa married John's brother Guy, hence the same last name as her sister).
Friends and family who wish to make donations in Betsy Hunter's memory are invited to contribute to:
New Sanctuary Coalition
Doctors Without Borders
Published in New York Times from Apr. 5 to Apr. 6, 2021.