Monday, February 21, 2011

Remembering Betty Hicks (1920-2011)

Let’s play a little sports Jeopardy. The category is Women Sports Pioneers.

The answers in this category are:

• Winner of the 1941 U.S. Women’s Amateur Golf Championship.
• 1941 Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year.
• Founder of the Women’s Professional Golf Association, the precursor to the LPGA.
• One of the founding players on the LPGA and contemporary of Babe Didrikson Zaharias.
• Professional woman golfer who, along with Babe Didrikson Zaharias, appeared in “Pat and Mike” the 1952 Hepburn & Tracy movie.
• Golf teacher, golf coach, aviator, flight instructor, author and gourmet cook.
• Inductee into the Women Sports Foundation International Hall of Fame


The question for all of these answers is: Who is Betty Hicks?

Betty Hicks was also the first woman athlete to write about lesbian athletes. Her 1979 article appeared in Christopher Street, a now defunct gay publication. I found it in the early 1980’s while doing my own research on the topic. When I had the opportunity to meet this gutsy and accomplished Renaissance woman I jumped at the chance. I was in the process of gathering information and doing interviews for writing Strong Women, Deep Closets, my book about lesbians in sport. I was on sabbatical in California and I called her and introduced myself. She invited me to her home, took me out to lunch and even offered me, basically a total stranger, the use of her car while I was in California. She was a true pioneer in women’s sports. She was a fearless feminist who lived her passion for golf, flying and writing. She inspired me and encouraged me as I struggled through my own self-doubts as a writer.

Betty told me amazing stories about the early days of the LPGA tour and offered insights into how the fear of being called a lesbian haunted the women on the tour during the 1950’s. Remember this was during the McCarthy Era when Senator McCarthy was holding hearings to root out Communists and homosexuals in the national government and other institutions in the U.S. It was the 20th Century version of the medieval witch hunts in Europe and seventeen century United States. Police routinely raided bars frequented by lesbians and gay men, herded the patrons into paddy wagons and newspapers published their names which led to public humiliation, disruptions of personal lives, job loss and terror. The lucky ones escaped out the back door or paid off the police to protect their anonymity.

The last time I saw Betty was about eight years ago when she visited Kathy and I while she was in Boston for some golf business. She hustled us out to the local Stop & Shop to buy the ingredients for the gourmet meal she was planning to cook us. She took over our kitchen and we served as her sou chefs as pots, pans and flour flew. The meal was great and we enjoyed seeing Betty. We just did not know it would be the last time.

Betty was 90 years old when she died this week. Imagine the changes she lived through both in women’s sports and in women’s and LGBT rights. I often think of social change as a relay race with each generation of people running their leg and passing the baton to the next generation with each successive leg of the race building on the hard work and courage of the one before. I like to think I took the baton from Betty and have run my leg in a way that she would be proud of. Tonight, I raise a glass in your honor, Betty. Thanks for being an inspiration and for being my friend.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear about the passing of this great woman. Sorry for the loss of your friend as well Pat. Thanks for the article.

eagle6873 said...

Don't forget Founder of LPGA Teaching Division as well. Thanks for the memory of Betty, Pat. The LPGA made sure to note that she competed under her married name as well....some things will never change. Hopefully she will be spoken of at the Founders Cup event coming up soon in Arizona. Her influence as an instructor has had a ripple effect on hundreds of thousands of students over the years.

Brenna said...

Thank you for writing such a wonderful article about my great-aunt. I am one of her grand-niece's and it has been wonderful reading all these different articles about her and her amazing life. I always knew she was such a pioneer but being as humble as she was when I was growing up with her I never fully understood until her passing.

Sincerely,
Brenna Zimmerman

Rowena Morrison Morrison said...

Pat, I heard your comments read today at a celebration of life gathering for Betty Hicks in Cupertino, CA where she lived - at a favorite restaurant of hers called the Blue Pleasant overlooking a 9-hole golf course called Blackberry. It was a wonderful gathering. I'm sure you will get reports from other quarters, but SO many people from golf, aviation, etc. showed up to share Betty vignettes. Her nieces and nephew were splendid in the memories they shared, and so was everyone else who spoke. Brenna who has posted here was one of my faves. I would guess 150+ people were there, but I didn't count. Many gay women/men were there to celebrate the positive impact she had on their lives. Thank you so much for your words about Betty.

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Betty hicks was an incredible person! we miss her so much!

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Hostpph said...

She did so many impressive things and it is a pity that she isn't with us anymore.