Ruth Elizabeth “Betty” Heller

SCARBOROUGH- Ruth Elizabeth “Betty” Heller, died peacefully in her sleep on June 27, 2020, at the age of 94; swimming out into that great expanse of ocean she loved.

Born in Scarsdale, N.Y., to parents Leonard H Davidow, an attorney and a White Plains, N.Y., real estate developer and Ruth R (Hays) Davidow.

She had two older siblings, a sister, Marjorie A (Ming) Rawson and a brother, William H Davidow, a pilot killed in an airplane accident in Worl War II.

Growing up in New York with her father, and in Connecticut with her mother and stepfather, Irvin Friend, Betty graduated with honors from Scarsdale High School in June of 1943; she began her studies at Vassar College in September of that year and graduated with a B.A. in Sociology in 1947. Upon graduation she moved to New York City and worked as a sociologist specializing in race relations.

Betty met her future husband, Howard Udall Heller, a Yale student upon his return from service in the U.S. Air Corp, on a blind date at a football game, arranged by her fun loving uncle, and his fun loving aunt; though skeptical of the manner of their acquaintance, they found love and happiness together.

Betty and Howard married in Trumbull, Conn., on April 17, 1950, and then elected to travel the European continent; Betty taking cooking classes at Le Cordon Bleu while Howard studied at the Universite Paris-Sorbonne; experiencing adventurous exploring in a 1920’s era crank-start Renault convertible jalopy.

Returning to America, they first lived in Chicago, where Howard received his MA in Urban Sociology from the University of Chicago.

In 1953, their first son, William was born.

They moved to Philadelphia, PA where they lived for 6 years while Howard worked for the Philadelphia Renewal Authority. Their son Donald was born in 1955, followed by their daughter Ruth in 1958.

Howard, Betty & family moved to Portland, ME in 1960. Howard became the Executive Director of the Portland Renewal Authority; and as her children grew older, Betty turned her talents to education; getting her teaching accreditation in the summer of 1961; teaching primary school in Cumberland; and then Art at Waynflete, beginning in 1965, where she became head of the Studio Arts Department. During this period in her life she immersed herself in her own art, working in many different medias including pottery, jewelry making, and fiber arts, as well as drawing and painting.

Desirous of a new direction, Betty retired from teaching in 1971, and after a buying trip to Mexico with Howard, opened one of the earliest venues in the ‘Old Port’ district in Portland, ‘The Port Store’, featuring selected hand crafted items; later incorporating a gallery.

As a family, they spent their winters skiing and their summers on the shore.

Betty loved the water all her life, in it as an avid swimmer, on it sailing, or beside it exploring the shore.

With a growing attachment to Peaks Island, they bought a summerhouse in 1969, and spent 13 years as ‘summer people’, before building a house on the Atlantic side of the Island in 1975, with spectacular views looking out to sea, as well as into Betty’s continuously evolving floral and vegetable gardens. There they lived with the good companionship of numbers of dogs and cats and a gaggle of geese; chasing off the unwelcome deer. Enjoying often the company of family and friends invited to share their world, the view, a fine meal, good conversation, a lovely day or evening.

While she loved her private and serene life, through the years she was involved in the close-knit community of Peaks Island, and served on several committees protecting Island life society and environment.

Working ‘to insure that change on our island is controlled by its citizens, to maintain the diversity of our community, to preserve and protect our fragile island and ecosystem. There is also a need to provide appropriate services commensurate to meeting the unique demands of island life.’

After 30 years, Betty and Howard moved off Island to Piper Shores in Scarborough, ME in 2012, eventually finding the long winters, cold ocean winds, limited ferry schedule, and the Island way of life more difficult than they wished to continue to navigate. They lived there happily for many years, still with a view to the water, taking with them their beloved pets, maintaining a small garden out the back door, and continuing their long relationships with family and friends. Howard passed peacefully in March of 2018.

Betty lived and loved a creative life. Her life-long interests included teaching, gardening, cooking; her pets, and most importantly, her family.

She crusaded for human rights and justice all of her life.

She will long be remembered fondly by family and friends for the joy she took in life, and, well read, her considered opinions.

Betty is survived by her three children: William Eslin, Donald Adam and Ruth Rebecca Heller.

There will be a memorial sail celebrating Betty’s life on August 15 for close friends and family, leaving from Portland at noon. Call for details: 917-592-5699.

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