In Memory of Betty Bumpers

It is with deep sadness that we announce the death of our co-founder, Betty Bumpers.  She was 93.

Betty was a strong and life-long advocate for children and immunizations.  All of us who had the honor of working with Betty feel a profound loss today.  As First Lady of Arkansas in 1974, Betty forged a partnership with Rosalynn Carter, who at the time was First Lady of Georgia, to improve immunization services for the children in their home states.  They worked together through the Carter administration in support of immunization programs and were credited with the passage of state laws mandating vaccines for school-entry. Their efforts were formalized when they founded “Every Child By Two” following a devastating measles outbreak in 1991 that took the lives of many children.

Betty’s work to advance immunizations has saved countless lives that would have been lost to deadly, preventable diseases.  So many people were touched by her generosity, humor and deep determination to use the power she had to make the world a better place.

We mourn the loss of our friend, co-founder and mentor.  We are heartbroken by this loss but are grateful to have had the honor to work along aside her in pursuit of a better, safer and healthier world.

Betty’s uplifting memorial service was video taped and can be viewed by following this link.  Vaccinate Your Family’s long-time Executive Director Amy Pisani, offered one of the eulogizes at the service, discussing her life-long dedication to ensuring the vaccination of every child. Amy’s inspiring eulogy starts at 39:23 minutes.

Betty’s Obituary
Betty Lou Flanagan Bumpers

Betty Lou Flanagan Bumpers passed away peacefully on November 23, 2018 at her home in Little Rock. She was born on January 11, 1925 in rural Grand Prairie, Arkansas, near Charleston, to H.E. (“Babe”) and Ola (Callan) Flanagan. She is survived by her sons Brent Bumpers (LeaAnn) and Bill Bumpers (Heidi), her daughter Brooke Bumpers (Gordon Low), her grandchildren Meg and Alex Bumpers, Braeden, Will and Linn Bumpers, and Callan and Emily Low; her sister Ruth Wolfe, and numerous nieces and nephews. She was predeceased by her husband, former Governor and U.S. Senator Dale Bumpers, her brother, Callans Flanagan, and her sister, Maggie Schaffer.

After starting life on the farm and living with no electricity for several years, she attended school in Charleston and Fort Smith. Later, her family moved to Ames, Iowa and she attended Iowa State University, and then later the Academy of Fine Arts in Chicago, and the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. In September 1949 she married her high school sweetheart, Dale Bumpers, and they moved to Chicago while he attended Northwestern University Law School and she worked a variety of different jobs to support them. Later they returned to Charleston where he practiced law and she taught elementary school. During 19 happy years there, raising their family, Betty was involved as a volunteer in many church and civic activities. The lessons she learned in her early years of grassroots organizing in her home town would serve her well in her later national and international efforts.

Then in 1970, when Dale ran for Governor, she threw herself into campaigning all over Arkansas, often with her sisters and cousins in tow. When he was elected, she suddenly found herself in the role of First Lady and began to sort through how to best use the opportunities it provided. She quickly focused on issues affecting children. One of her proudest accomplishment was organizing an effort to increase childhood immunization rates in Arkansas, which were among the lowest in the country at that time. Based on the success of that effort, she began speaking to other Governor’s wives about working on immunization levels in their states. One of those First Ladies was Rosalynn Carter, and after Dale was elected to the U.S. Senate and Jimmy Carter was elected President, Betty contacted Mrs. Carter about using the Arkansas model to launch a national effort. Betty worked with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to develop programs helping the states increase immunization levels, and Betty and Mrs. Carter later teamed up to create a non-profit organization, Every Child By Two, now called Vaccinate Your Family, to continue this work. That organization been in operation for over 25 years, educating the public about the value of immunizations and advocating for policies to reduce rates of vaccine-preventable illnesses.

In addition to her immunization efforts, in the early 1980s she became concerned about the threat of nuclear war due to the arms race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, and decided she needed to use whatever influence she had to try and advocate for arms control and peaceful conflict resolution. She formed Peace Links, and began by reaching out to Governors’ wives and other Congressional wives, believing the need to protect future generations from the threat of nuclear war would particularly resonate with women. Because she was willing and able to take on this cause, despite having no particular expertise in arms issues and defense policy, she inspired many other women to do the same and become peace activists. Ultimately,Peace Links organizations were established in many states. Over a 20 year period Peace Links sponsored cultural exchange programs, taking groups of women to meet with peace activists in other countries, hosting groups that came to the United States, and teaching women how to be advocates in their own communities.

In 2005, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, and in 2015 she was in the inaugural group of women inducted into the Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame; and in 1999,she and Dale were honored with the naming of the Dale and Betty Bumpers Vaccine Research Center (VRC) at the National Institutes of Health. In addition to founding and running Vaccinate Your Family and Peace Links, she also served on the boards of many other organizations, including the U.S. Institute of Peace, the United Methodist Higher Education Foundation, and the Hendrix College Board, and she gave her time, money and efforts to many other causes that were important to her.

Eventually Betty and Dale retired and moved back to Little Rock, full time, where she continued to oversee the ongoing efforts of Vaccinate Your Family, and to volunteer and be involved in many local efforts. She loved planting and maintaining her beautiful gardens, raising chickens in the back yard, and hosting her grandchildren for sleepovers and pancake breakfasts as often as possible.

When she was in her late 80s and was interviewed for a book about her life, she said she wanted to be remembered for being a good mother and a good wife, and for trying to live up to her beliefs about the sin of omission, meaning that she hoped she had taken advantage of every opportunity that had come along,and had tried to use it to do something worthwhile. She certainly did all that and more, having fulfilled the directive, often attributed to John Wesley, to “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”

The family is grateful to have had her love, inspiration and guidance for so many years, and wishes to thank her many friends and relatives who have continued to visit and provide support, especially Joan Baker. They are particularly appreciative of the devoted caregivers, spearheaded by Margaret Chapple, who allowed her to remain at home, and to Arkansas Hospice for providing comfort in her final weeks. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorials be made to Vaccinate Your Family: The Next Generation of Every Child By Two through their website at www.vaccinateyourfamily.org.  Checks should be made out to “Every Child By Two” and mailed to 1012 14th Street, N.W., Suite 415, Washington, DC 20005.

A memorial service will be held at First United Methodist Church of Little Rock, 723 Center Street, at 2:30pm on Saturday, December 1, 2018. Arrangements are under the direction of Ruebel Funeral Home – www.ruebelfuneralhome.com.

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4 thoughts on “In Memory of Betty Bumpers”

  1. Sandy Hoar says:

    So sorry to hear this. She really made a difference!

  2. Tammy Pilisuk says:

    A photo I have sitting next to Betty and Rosalyn is one of the treasured items I keep at work. She was a great lady with a passion for keeping kids free from preventable diseases. RIP, Betty.

  3. Marcy Jones says:

    Betty enriched our lives personally and professionally. Having her in our corner, with Mrs. Carter, gave us the encouragement to ever increase our efforts to promote childhood and adult immunization in our states and the country. We are so grateful for her enduring contribution, her enthusiasm, and determination.

  4. Debbie Samra says:

    What a wonderful lady who did so much good.

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