Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Fern Faggard Bulkley

Loving mother and grandmother, pillar of strength

Calm, strong and independent to the end, Betty Bulkley died peacefully on December 28, 2014 in her own apartment at Claremont Manor as she had wished, under hospice care after a recent diagnosis of ovarian cancer. Just shy of 88, she was able to enjoy a “big table” Thanksgiving and a joyful Christmas day with her daughter and four generations of family, and told family she was ready to go.

Born to J. Ward Faggard and Margaret Jones Faggard on January 10, 1928 in Wichita Falls, Texas, she spent her early years in Texas and Kansas City, Missouri, returning as a teenager to Texas where she graduated at age 16 as valedictorian of her high school class in Corpus Christi. She moved with her parents to San Diego to be near her brother Joe, a US Marine who was recovering in the hospital after being seriously wounded in the Pacific Theatre during World War II. 

As a freshman at Occidental College, Betty met Cal Tech student Edward “Ned” Bulkley when he volunteered to pick up the “Oxy girls” for a dance hosted at then all-male Cal Tech. The family story reports that, as one of the few students with his own car, Ned was also asked to pick up an ice block for the punch. The car was crowded, so Betty volunteered to sit on the ice for the ride to campus. This started them talking, and the rest is history. Married on September 5, 1947, Mrs. Bulkley discontinued her formal education to earn instead what she called her “PHT” degree, working in a Pasadena office to Put Husband Through as he went on to complete his electrical engineering degree program. 

With the help of friends and Mr. Bulkley’s father, they built their own home on a steep hillside in South Pasadena where they lived when their two daughters were born, Beverly in 1951 and Katherine in 1954. In 1958 the family moved to San Marino, where Mrs. Bulkley kept home and family clean and fed, volunteered as a Girl Scout leader and room mother and kept an immaculately weed-free dichondra lawn while Ned worked his way through a number of engineering positions. Although she never drove a car, Betty was fully mobile, walking, taking the bus or riding her bicycle wherever she needed to go. The Bulkleys developed a common love of musical theater and classical music during those years; this continued throughout her life, bringing her peace and comfort to the end.

During the kids’ growing-up years, the family enjoyed camping, swimming and sailing. Although Mrs. Bulkley was an able crewmember for her husband’s sailboat-racing hobby, she preferred to stay inside the bay since the ocean waves made her seasick. If daughter Beverly or another crew person wasn’t available for an “outside” race, she would bravely climb aboard their 14-foot dinghy, heeding Mr. Bulkley’s directive to “face aft when seasickness struck” so as to give the boat more forward propulsion and a competitive edge. Never one for luxury travel, Betty enjoyed a few adventures beyond her “comfort zone” at Ned’s behest, such as sailing through the surf off the beach in Hawaii, driving the unpaved logging roads that paralleled the Al-Can Highway to get to Alaska (Ned would never drive on a paved road if a dirt road led to the same destination!) and living in Japan briefly while he was there on a work assignment.

After the untimely death of their younger daughter and Mr. Bulkley’s retirement, they left southern California for the quiet of rural life in Oregon, settling in a log cabin on several acres near the Rogue River. For 25 years, the couple lived simply on the land, using a wood stove to heat the cabin in the winter and swimming to cool off in the summer. Their three granddaughters loved visiting and have happy memories of playing “store” and solitaire with their doting grandmother, whose careful resource management produced all the toys they needed—cardboard boxes, pine cones, acorns, toilet paper and paper towel rolls, pieces of string and a creative imagination to play games with.

In the early 1990s, Mr. Bulkley developed Parkinson’s disease and it became increasingly difficult to care for him in their home. Although she was resilient in maintaining a physically demanding lifestyle, when she fell and broke her hip in 2006, they were forced to leave Oregon to come to Claremont where their daughter and family could provide needed support. Settling into what she termed “elegant living” at Claremont Manor, Betty made new friends and developed a reputation for gentle strength, a positive attitude and a sense of humor that endeared her to staff and residents alike. 

After Ned died in 2009, she devoted most of her energy to her daughter’s family, providing major support for the educational needs, community engagement, charitable causes and life events of her daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters, all of whom she was tremendously proud. She delighted in watching the growth and antics of her three great-grandchildren, another generation with whom she could play on her living room floor with carefully-saved tissue boxes and toilet paper rolls. In spite of increasing frailty, she was always game for family outings and enjoyed trips to the beach, to the theater, out to dinner and to the LA County Fair, where she joined great-granddaughter Savannah on the merry-go-round—and not on the boring bench that stays on the platform, but on the horse that goes up and down! 

Her son-in-law David described her thusly. “My mother-in-law had an incredible toughness of an unusual kind insofar as it was mostly inconspicuous for a variety of reasons—partly because she ably played second violin to her husband’s concertmaster, partly because it reflected what I think of as a Midwestern talent for silent perseverance and partly because—and not just at the end of her life—she spoke softly so that you needed to listen carefully to hear her.

“My mother was the strongest person I know,” Beverly added. “She gave me a solid base of unconditional love, and set me free to become who I needed to be.  She was always there for me, even when we didn’t agree about what I was doing.  She was the original ‘Strong Mama’ and I want to be like her when I grow up and grow old.”

She is survived by her daughter and son-in-law, Beverly and David Speak; granddaughters Julia Hobson, Emily Speak and Margaret Speak; sons-in-law Richard Hobson and Anthony Reichert; and great-grandchildren Savannah, Edward and Zachary Speak. She also leaves her sister-in-law Kay Philips, nieces and nephews Susan Reedy, Melinda Base, William Faggard, Carol Cumming and Susan Dorn, additional great- and great-grand nieces and nephews and numerous loving friends.

Friends and family are invited to come together for a joyful celebration of Betty’s life on Saturday, January 10 (which would have been her 87th birthday) at 3 p.m. at the Claremont Friends Meeting House, 727 W. Harrison Ave. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that memorial donations be made to Kids Come First Community Health Center. Contact Beverly Speak at (909) 455-4832 for more information.

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