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R.I.P. Betty White

Her many fans will not have any trouble remembering this past New Years Eve as the same day that comedienne Betty White passed away, just a couple of champagne cocktails shy of her 100th birthday!

New Year's Eve seemed a perfect time for her to take her leave — a day known for universal partying to thoughtfully remember the old and to enthusiastically and hopefully ring in the new. So even in death, Betty White will make the kind of permanent impression that few show business celebrities can make.

She looked like everybody's unwed aunt or your third-grade teacher who knew how to scold you and hold your attention but who also became the one you never forgot and loved the most.

Behind Betty White's shirtwaist dresses, traditional haircut and minimal makeup was a surprisingly "hot sketch" – a woman whom you could just imagine using salty (but not tasteless) language if she wasn't on television where hot-sketch-talk wasn't allowed. Despite her practiced "old maid" demeanor, we all knew there was a devilish side to this adorable woman who — when not on TV — probably could make even construction workers, soldiers, streetwalkers or bartenders who have seen it all blush, on occasion.

She was an expert on making the shy perfect little lady image reek with suggestions that, when the microphone was off, she'd be telling the same story in more colorful terms.

Married three times, she could hardly claim to have lived a virginal life. She obviously knew what she was looking for in the right man and, dammit, she was going to keep finding them and disposing of the ones who didn't cut the mustard as she wanted it.

When she was working in "The Golden Girls" with Bea Arthur — who was also the down-to-earth and no-holds-barred "Maud" of our TV memories — she played the almost-perfect role for Betty White: the matronly friend who looks innocent enough and has the audience's sympathy as a perceived naif, but who suddenly shows the audience that there are no flies on her!

There may have been comediennes with greater followings or those who made themselves legends in what is called "legitimate theater,"  but I doubt there are many who made more money or had a more faithful and broad-based following than Betty White, including the LGBTQ community, wherein she is an icon to millions.

If there is a place where we all go after death (as newscasters are saying Betty White believed) I'm sure that only days after her arrival she will have heaven's residents smiling and laughing. Who knows, the head guy himself might find her so entertaining she becomes the first to be put in charge of lifting the spirits of Paradise.

If he asks her to do any celestial work like that, she may try to negotiate a better heavenly deal for herself — maybe a particular cloud she wants to live on, or a good looking manly archangel she's noticed whom she might want as her personal protector in the sky.

Funny thing is, Betty White will probably get everything she asks for. That's just the way it is with women who have a strong will, boundless energy, an unforgettable smile and the charming wit needed to make their case.

R.I.P., Betty White. Thanks for the great example of feistiness and earthiness cloaked in a pseudo-traditional image. In the end, you did it your way and you have left us a great example plus a fortune of wonderful memories that will live on for decades, for which we will be forever grateful.

Mary Ann Sorrentino is a columnist who writes from Rhode Island.


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