An interview with Betty Hatt, founder of Concerned Friends

Betty Hatt

Betty Hatt passed away on March 20, 2014 at the age of 97.

Betty knew what caregiving is all about. In the late 1970s, she took an apartment across the street from the nursing home where her mother lived, and she visited every day.

It wasn’t a chore.

“My mother was good company. She had a sense of humour and a clear mind. She loved to do crosswords, and often wished she could have a stand with a dictionary on it,” Betty told Board member Kathy Pearsall in a March 2011 interview.

Because her mother had rheumatoid arthritis, Betty was there at mealtimes to help her to eat, and she often took her mother out for dinner.

The home was clean, the food acceptable, and things appeared to run smoothly, at least on the surface.

However, Betty was very concerned about the weekend staff who spent too much time chatting with friends on the phone while neglecting their duties.

As well, the attitude toward family members was sometimes quite adversarial.

“I was told that my mother wasn’t the problem. I was the problem,” she recalls.

These concerns led her to Lotta Dempsey, a Toronto Star columnist and renowned women’s activist. Together, Betty and Lotta organized a meeting of other concerned caregivers. One of the nurses from the home had even agreed to attend this meeting, but she cancelled at the last minute out of fear that it might jeopardize her job.

“I was very thankful for Lotta’s help,” Betty said.

The small group of caregivers continued to meet regularly at the Bedford Park Church in downtown Toronto. Betty’s aunt Gladys joined in, along with Betty’s cousin, Bryce, and his wife. Bryce, a lawyer, spent many hours searching for a name under which this small group could be organized. After many, many hours of searching, Concerned Friends of Ontario Citizens in Care Facilities was registered. A Board was formed, and Betty was named its first president in 1980.

Betty’s great fear was that her involvement in Concerned Friends might lead to her mother being transferred to a different nursing home—one with a bad reputation. For this reason, and because there was another strong woman willing to take the helm as president, Betty officially left the group. She has remained a member and supporter ever since.

Among her other accomplishments, Betty was Toronto’s first female bank teller during World War II. Working full time for the Red Cross, she greeted and assisted war brides on their arrival to Canada. She spent many years employed at Imperial Oil. She volunteered at the Toronto General Hospital and the Toronto Public Library, and she was a long-time member of Toastmasters.

Betty told us she had led a full and happy life and enjoyed the company of many close friends and colleagues.

She said she was proud of Concerned Friends, the work it has done, and its ongoing commitment to long-term care. And we are most grateful to Betty Hatt for lighting the torch for us 30 years ago.