Remembering Bette Dewing

Longtime Our Town columnist dies at 97. An obituary and two tributes

10 Sep 2020 | 03:48

Bette (Brabec) Dewing, a longtime columnist for Our Town and other publications, passed away on September 5, 2020 at the age of 97 from continuing effects of the COVID virus. She started her career with Our Town in 1976 and continued her biweekly columns “For a Gentle City,” “Dewing Things Better” and “Voices” up until February 2020 when she went into a rehab facility for a leg injury and subsequently contracted the coronavirus. Her columns were about “quality of life issues” in New York City and covered everything from pedestrian safety, the contributions of the elderly to society, a return to civility, automobile and bicycle lawlessness, and the loss of neighborhood businesses, to name just a few.

In 2019, she was honored with the “Women of Distinction” award presented by State Senator Liz Krueger and the New York State Senate. The award honored the “enormous contributions that women have made throughout the state and the nation.” Additional honors included the 1983 Our Town Pippin Award for her founding of the public safety organization Pedestrians First; and the 2006 Proclamation from the East 79th Street Neighborhood Association and Betty Cooper Wallerstein, Rep. Carolyn Maloney and State Senator Liz Krueger for her “countless contributions to the lives of New York residents, the city itself and in particular, the 26th State Senate District.” The proclamation was entered into the Congressional record of the 109th Congress.

Though a diehard New Yorker since 1949, Bette Dewing was always proud of her small town Minnesota upbringing and her brief stint as a 1940’s big band singer. She is survived by her twin sons, Jeff and Todd Brabec, both entertainment law attorneys.

Living in a “Gentle City”

Our Town was our mother’s life for 44 years. The paper allowed her to discuss issues that she felt were necessary for everyday New Yorkers living in a (as she preferred) “gentle city.” She won the OTTY Award in 1996 under the “Quality of Life” designation. She also received the Our Town Pippin Award in 1983, awarded to any individual, public figure or private person who has made the Big Apple “more delicious.”

My brother and I can’t thank you enough for allowing her and encouraging her to write as she did. It kept her going for so many years. Your readers, all of her friends, those in power and out and every New Yorker should be thankful for having her in the community which she contributed so much to. In these trying times, we need many more like her.

– Todd Brabec

Driving the Conversation

I was surprised and pleased when I joined Straus News in December 2018 to discover that one of my responsibilities would be editing Bette Dewing’s column. I was surprised because Bette and I first crossed paths in 1976 when I was briefly a reporter for Our Town, one of my first jobs in journalism. The fact that she was still at it decades later rightly struck me as an astounding feat. I was pleased because I knew I would be working with someone who cared deeply about her community, and that’s what neighborhood newspapers are all about.

To say that Bette loved the Upper East Side is the kind of understatement that you would never find in a Bette Dewing column. She was passionate about the place and the people and she made that abundantly clear in everything she wrote. I should also mention that she was no pushover when it came to the editing process. She knew what she wanted to say and how she wanted to say it. If she didn’t like a headline I wrote or a change I made to her copy, she didn’t hesitate to let me know.

This excerpt from one of her last columns, published this past February to mark Valentine’s Day, perfectly captures her voice:

“‘You make me smile with my heart.’ As some of you know, those words are from the ever timeless “My Funny Valentine.” And yes, composers Rodgers and Hart wrote them about couple love. But ‘smiling with our hearts’ is so universally needed. So are songs that apply to family, friendship and neighbor love. And you’ll agree that infinitely more needs to be said about these affections so essential to everyday health and well-being.”

“Infinitely more needs to be said” was a constant theme of Bette’s. Whether the subject was e-bikes (she hated them!), ageism (she demanded respect for older citizens), doormen and other building staffers (she knew and appreciated the critical role they play in the life of the city) or any of the countless issues and concerns she wrote about, Bette was determined to drive the conversation. And she did, to the benefit of her loyal readers, her beloved Upper East Side and New York City. She was one of a kind, and she will be missed.

– David Noonan