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Elizabeth Cowles Partridge, 1902-1977


Quite likely her many friends have quite different memories of Betsy, for she was exuberant in her enjoyment of many things. Mountains were her consuming passion—but only one of several. People really interested her the most, and hundreds received her “keep in touch” post cards.

Though I knew Betsy for almost forty years, my most vivid memory —I like to think most characteristic of her—dates to the fall of 1950. Five of us were walking across Nepal after the first visit to the south side of Everest by westerners. It had been an incredibly joyous month— a picnic across hundreds of miles of a land never visited by Europeans; we had seen Thyangboche unspoiled and unscarred by westerners. There were no campsites or litter along the way to Everest Base Camp. Betsy had won the hearts and minds of the Nepalese who thronged about her every day; she was constantly engulfed by laughing children. Most impressively she had won the affections of the most formidable of misogynists, Bill Tilman, the toughest of the old school of Himalayan travellers. Our Thanksgiving was a special one: Betsy laid a white tablecloth (mosquito net) on a table (packing boxes), with flowers, candles and punch—(rakshi and oranges) ; our priest Andy Bakewell gave thanks. We feasted on roast goat and thought gratefully of what we had been privileged to see and to do, at a time when much of Asia seemed to be going up in flames. Betsy was at her very finest then, though I imagine she radiated to others just as much happiness in a later year when she and “G.P.” (her second husband, General Earle Partridge) made a similar journey with Bill and Laney House.

She had been introduced early to mountain walking by her minister father and when serious tuberculosis took her to Colorado to convalesce, it was obvious that she would remain there.

Betsy was a lifelong patron of the Arts: she learned to fly when in her sixties, and she and Pat flew “Air Partridge” all over the United States. She was endlessly thoughtful, not only of her own children, but of many god-children and friends as well. I doubt that anyone knows how much she did for how many.

Betsy did not take up causes; she was not a crusader but voiced opinions when asked, and they were usually generous and tolerant and influenced many of her friends.

My last memory is also characteristic: a week before she died— “Charlie” she said, “I’ve done everything the doctors asked me to do; I’ve done my duty. Now can’t I just go?” She died at home, surrounded by family, in peace and courage. Few people knew all about Betsy, but all loved the bits they knew: a sunny privileged life, lived to the utmost and with joy to very many.

Charles S. Houston, M.D.