Partner Betty Armstrong, buried together
Waikanae Cemetery, 30 Ngarara Rd, Waikanae 5036, New Zealand
Bea Arthur met her life partner Betty (Bette) Armstrong (1909-2000) in 1943. Betty and Bea lived together for 57 years. They led very private lives during the entire pre-1970 period, until feeling compelled to speak out during the 1985-1986 Homosexual Law Reform campaign. Betty and Bea were recognised in their eighties by lesbian and gay com munities in Auckland and Wellington as important elders and forerunners.
Bette died in 2000 aged ninety-one, and Bea within two years of Betty in 20 02, aged eighty-six. They are buried together at Waikanae Cemetery.
Bea was born on December 13, 1915, one of six child ren in a working-class Napier family. Her father was a tailor, and the family moved north from Invercargill when Bea was three years old. She attended Napier Girls’ High School, leaving at fifteen following the 1931 Napier Earthquake, when the family returned south f or some months. Back in Napier, she worked at a department store, before leaving aged t wenty-four for nursing training at Wellington Public Hospital in 1940.
Betty was born on April 16, 1909, an only child in a middle-class Petone family. Her father was a dentist, and her mother came from a wealthy B lenheim family. Bette attended Queen Margaret College in Wellington, a private school. A fter her parents divorced when she was fifteen, Betty moved with her mother to Blenheim, b oarding at Nelson Girls' College for a year. Bea explained that Betty “wasn’t boarding sch ool material”, and that she left school to work in a Blenheim legal office, and live at home, before she and her mother returned to Wellington. She attended Gilbey’s Business College, qualifying as a stenographer at twenty, and her father then found her a position wi th the Reserve Bank.
Bea and Bette met in December 1943, when Bette was admitted to Wellington Hospital as a patient, with sciatica, which Bea thought was due to Bette’s war work with the Red Cross. Bea was her nurse. The couple decided they would live independently, and bought a gorse-covered hilly section in Khandallah. They cleared the secti on themselves, established a large garden, and had a house built where they lived for nearly fifty years.
After twenty years, the couple bought another secti on at Waikanae, building a modest weekend cottage and developing another garden. Both women retired during the early 1970s, Bea from her position as Sister in Charge of Outpatients at Wellington Hospital, and Bette from office work. They shared several retirement activities, especially painting, and eventually became involved with the lesbian and gay communities in the 1980s, during the Homosexual Law Reform campaign. During this campaign, they telepho ned several religious leaders.