Elizabeth Peabody Prince van Buren died peacefully at her home in Cambridge on November 9, 2019. She was 95 years old.
Betsy was born on July 8, 1924, in Newburyport, MA to Marjorie B. and Morton P. Prince. She grew up on Beacon Hill and graduated from the Winsor School. In 1944, she married Harold S. van Buren, Jr. and they had two sons: Harold Sheffield van Buren III and Clement Thorburn van Buren. They divorced in 1960.
Although she never remarried, Betsy was rarely alone in the decades after her divorce. Over the years, she opened her lovely home to a succession of students, musicians, friends, and relatives, for periods ranging from a few months to several years. She loved meeting new people and getting to know them; her warmth and genuine interest brought out the best in those around her. Just knowing her helped people to grow; she enjoyed introducing people to things that they wouldn’t have otherwise known about. Family meant everything to Betsy; although estranged from her ex-husband, she remained close to his family. Holidays at Betsy’s house were festive, with multiple generations crowded around the table, a fire crackling in the living room. Her final weeks were a reflection of the life she lived and the love that she gave and generated, with friends and family coming from far and wide to see her.
Betsy was remarkable in the way she engaged with the world. In addition to reading—and retaining--The New York Times every day, she read The Boston Globe, The Times Literary Supplement, The New York Review of Books, The Guardian, and The New Yorker. She believed strongly that one shouldn’t idly sit by and do nothing, but that it was important to do what one could to make the world a better place. Later in life, she became a prolific letter-writer, writing to everyone from elected representatives to corporate CEOs to avaricious real estate developers. A life-long learner, she was among the first students at the Harvard Institute of Learning in Retirement, where she reveled in studying philosophy and comparative religion. She continued taking classes up until the year before her death. She was also a member of the Chilton Club, the Thursday Mothers’ Club, the Parliamentary Law Group, and the Nucleus.
A generous patron and supporter of the arts, Betsy helped to found the Institute of Contemporary Arts in Boston, and served as a docent at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. After working for the Weeden Gallery in Boston for many years, in 1978, with friends Chrissy Brazelton and Jerry Cutting, she founded the Van Buren/Brazelton/Cutting Gallery in Cambridge. The gallery exhibited works by young Boston-area artists and helped to launch many careers.
She is survived by her two sons, H. Sheffield van Buren (partner Marni Clippinger) and Clement van Buren, grandson Jesse van Buren and his mother, Karen Moore, nine nieces and nephews and their children, Natela Archvadze, and countless friends.
A funeral will be held at Bigelow Chapel, Mt. Auburn Cemetery, on Friday, November 15 at 1:00 pm. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the Union of Concerned Scientists or Planned Parenthood.