In Memoriam: Elizabeth “Betsy” Ross Lovett

In Memoriam: Elizabeth “Betsy” Ross Lovett
Elizabeth “Betsy” Ross Lovett

March 19, 1930 – October 26, 2021

A legendary Jacksonville hostess and entertainer, avid donor and fund raiser, donner of exquisite and show-stopping costumes, and passionate world traveler, 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 touched.

Born at St. Vincent’s on March 19, 1930, Betsy became seriously ill at age nine and underwent surgery also at St. Vincent’s. A particular medication, along with an arm-to-arm transfusion from a fireman, saved her life. “All my life I wanted to do something for that hospital,” Betsy once recounted. Years later she put her name on the surgery and research center there. “My mother always said I must have been left on this earth for something good.”

When she was 12, Betsy knitted ‘Bundles for Britain’ with her grandmother—eight-inch squares that were made into quilts for WWII soldiers—and rolled bandages. She remembered giving away ration stamps to needy families. These selfless acts molded Betsy’s heart and led her to a lifetime of devoted community service and prolific philanthropy.

Betsy graduated from Lee High School and UNC Chapel Hill. She married industrialist William Dow Lovett, also from Jacksonville. Betsy adored her “Billy.”

Elizabeth “Betsy” Ross Lovett

Betsy’s community roles spanned the gamut of organizations. She served as Chairman of the Cowford Ball, the American Cancer Society’s annual benefit, and as Honorary Chair 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 first female Chairman of that board. She served as President of the Cummer Council, chaired the Cummer Ball and Auction, and reestablished the tradition of the annual Christmas tree display. She gave the naming gift for the Meissen Gallery in honor of her husband.

She was an Advisor for the opening gala for the Jacksonville Museum of Modern Art (now MOCA) in 2004 and member of the Host Committee of the 2005 Super Bowl. At the Jacksonville Historical Society, Betsy served as Vice-President and began the annual Christmas Party.

A notorious and self-proclaimed “raconteuse,” Betsy loved stories, books and libraries. She chaired the gala opening of the new Jacksonville Public Library, where she served on the Board and established the Betsy Lovett Courtyard. She chaired the Jacksonville Public Library Foundation from 2007-2010.

Betsy’s dear friend Robin Albaneze, current President of The Women’s Board of Wolfson Children’s Hospital, recalled: “Betsy was an extraordinary woman who lived life to the fullest. I first got to know her 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. That did not faze Betsy! She brought in everything from flowers to food to bagpipes!”

Her years of involvement with St. Vincent’s include the Betsy Lovett Surgical Center and the lead gift for the Lung Institute. She was also a member of The Women’s Board of Wolfson Children’s Hospital, where she supported medical programs and equipment for children.

She set the trajectory of many area artists, donating to Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, Episcopal Children’s Services, Jacksonville Arts and Music School, and Jacksonville University. She established the Betsy Ross Lovett Center for the Arts at the Bolles School Bartram Campus and served as Trustee.

Betsy was awarded the 2010 Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville Individual Hall of Fame Award, the second ever given. She received the EVE Lifetime Achievement Award from the Florida Times Union for her service to the community.

Betsy was an accomplished markswoman who enjoyed outdoor adventures including safaris in Africa and hunts with the King of Spain.  She loved hunting and fishing on her large plantation in North Florida and was a strong environmentalist. She supported organizations including St. Johns Riverkeeper, Ducks Unlimited and The Nature Conservancy. She considered one of her greatest accomplishments her success in blocking the construction of a hazardous waste facility that would have endangered the Florida aquifer.

Betsy loved her farm. She said it was the place she went to nurture her soul. She even once called it her “church.”

While her extravagant, exuberant personality and humongous heart reminded one of Auntie Mame, Betsy was even more lovable. She treasured people, and people adored her. Those who knew and loved Betsy were all “dahlin’” to her.

Her dear friend Ward Lariscy said, “Betsy was larger than life and always made everyone feel she had known them forever. Her favorite expression was ‘Cheers!’ and she would lift her champagne glass high. And at the end of the evening the glass was still almost full, as she had no time to sip it for talking. She loved costumes, and we drove her Rolls Royce with Betsy in full flapper attire across the Buckman Bridge as she waved the royal wave to startled persons who passed us, wondering who this celebrity was. Cheers, my friend!”

Elizabeth “Betsy” Ross Lovett

Indeed, she was known for those costumes, some of which she borrowed from the Santa Fe Opera. She dressed as Betsy Ross and Miss Victory at school growing up, and the passion progressed from there. For the American Cancer Society, she was once Annie Oakley. Another year she was a western madam with 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 champagne.“Why not dress up and be silly if it can help an organization?” said Betsy.

Betsy’s philanthropic efforts also took her outside North Florida. She was President of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of Florida, and on the board of Dumbarton House in Washington and Sulgrave Manor, the ancestral home of George Washington. Betsy was Vice President of the Board of Venetian Heritage, Inc., an international restoration organization co-founded by her brother-in-law, Laurence Dow Lovett, and previously served on the Board of Save Venice.

Even with her glamorous life, Betsy’s heart was one of humility and love for others. When she received the EVE Lifetime Achievement Award, she said everybody in that audience deserved it and that she was only the recipient of it for them. “There is nothing in life that you can do without a support system,” Betsy said.

Betsy believed the Jacksonville community was “extraordinary.” “I’ve been all over South America and Africa and Europe. I’ve met many royals and been to birthday parties at Kensington Palace. But I always came back to Jacksonville to find it the most beautiful, joyous, wonderful spot. It’s the river. It’s the people. We are fortunate to have what we have here in Jacksonville. I hope people realize it.”

Betsy is survived by two daughters, Elizabeth Lovett Colledge (Frank Denton) and Anne Lovett Jennings (Jim); seven grandchildren; six great-grandchildren; her sister Caroline Ross Burroughs and several nieces and nephews. She dearly loved her long-time caretaker and household manager, C. J. Farrell.

Contributions may be made to one of the causes dear to Betsy’s heart.

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