IN REMEMBRANCE – Manhattan Beach matriarch Bettelu Beverly passes
by Mark McDermott
When she peacefully departed life on April 11, Bettelu Beverly was just a week from her 98th birthday, an age at which, aside from her family, most of those who knew just who she was and what she’d meant to Manhattan Beach had already preceded her in death.
But Councilman Steve Napolitano knew her, and at the end of last week’s meeting, he rose to adjourn the meeting in her honor.
His voice broke as he began.
“I’m sorry, I am choking up already,” he said.
When Napolitano was first elected to the council at age 26 in the early 1990s, Elizabeth Louise “Bettelu” Beverly and her husband Robert Beverly were the kindly titans of Manhattan Beach. His renown as an assemblyman and state senator for 29 years and three-time mayor of Manhattan Beach was perhaps greater than hers, but locally, Bettelu was among the most respected and beloved figures in the community.
“She was a true matriarch here in Manhattan Beach, whose reach went well beyond the Beverly family,” Napolitano said.
Bettelu lived life avidly. Her days brimmed with things to do. She raised four children, cared for several generations of house pets, helped organized her husband’s campaigns, ran a gift shop (first on the old Redondo waterfront and then in Manhattan Beach) called The Lemon Tree, and was an extremely active member of first the Dolphin Club and then the Neptunian Women’s Club. She worked locally on the Sister City program connecting Manhattan Beach with Culiacán, Mexico, and later served on the state Commission of the Californias establishing working relationships between California and Baja California, Mexico.
She was also a pianist, painter, and, much to her family’s surprise, a ballet dancer.
“I remember her taking ballet lessons, which we thought was crazy at the time,” said her son Bob Beverly. “There was a ballet studio down by the beach at Marine and the Strand, that building where that famous old Lee’s burger joint was…There was a studio there, and my sister was taking ballet lessons and my Mom decided to try it herself.”
Former mayor and retired city historian Jan Dennis, who is 91, remembers joining the Neptunian Club back in the ‘50s when Bettelu was part of its leadership.
“You had to be invited to join, and when you were invited, your interview was at a luncheon, where you were introduced to the members,” Dennis recalled. “Then the next meeting, you couldn’t come, because they voted on whether or not the group would let you in as a member. It was a whole different ballgame then, very community-oriented, and Bettelu was very involved. She was involved with everything in the city. She was out and about helping with the library, and she was involved when the Fire Department got its first ambulance.”
Dennis said that Bettelu seemed to be at every function that took place in town for a half century.
“She loved Manhattan Beach, she really did,” Dennis said.
That love lasted her lifetime. Bob Beverly said that just a few months ago his mother made a contribution to the new Scout House and Senior Community Center in her and his father’s name.
“We were kind of hoping she’d be around to see it, but yes, she made a big donation to that senior center in her and my dad’s name a few months ago,” Bob Beverly said. “She was still very alert and very involved in things right up until the end.”
Bettelu only quit driving a few years ago. Bob Beverly broke the news to her when she was 94 that the family had been thinking it had become too dangerous for her to drive — particularly because she still lived on Highland Avenue, which is tricky to pull out on.
“And she said, ‘Well, if I don’t, I don’t know how my caregiver is going to get around,’” Bob Beverly recalled. “Which was true. Her caregiver couldn’t drive. My mom would drive her to the supermarket.”
Family lore differs on exactly how Bettelu and Robert Beverly met. They both grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and went to the same high school together. He was a tennis partner of her older brother, James, but didn’t really know each other until they crossed paths in California. Robert was in the U.S. Marine Corps near the end of WWII, stationed at Camp Pendleton.
“There have been more than a few stories how it all happened but the last one was that they ran into each other walking down Wilshire Boulevard in West LA and he invited her out for a drink,” Bill Beverly wrote in a short biography the family compiled after their mother’s passing. “Dad was only 20 so he had to fake a call pretending he was his own Marine Corps sergeant to vouch that he was 21. I guess it worked…. and they married and had four children, Barbara, Bill, Bob, and Brian.”
They were married from 1946 until Robert’s passing in 2009.
“After marrying, Bettelu worked at UCLA while Dad studied to be a history teacher,” Bill Beverly wrote. “They first lived in a guest house behind the home of Dr. Robert Simon and his wife on Buckingham Street in West Los Angeles, where Dad mowed lawns for rent and where they met Justice Minor Moore, who convinced dad to go to law school and for whom dad clerked in the court. It also helped that Doctor Simon was a pediatrician which helped immeasurably with the medical costs of four children.”
The family moved to Manhattan Beach in 1951. Seven years later, Robert Beverly — who would be known variously as “Corporal Bob”, “Senator Bob”, and “Mayor Bob” throughout his lifetime — launched his political career. Bettelu was always right by his side.
“She was involved in a lot of things,” Bob Beverly said. “She always kind of played a second fiddle to my dad, always in the background. You know, I’ve been thinking about something…I remember back in 1957 or maybe early 1958, my mom and dad making their own giant billboards when my dad ran for council. Because my mom was a bit of an artist and they got these four by eight foot press boards. She painted them white, then sprinkled glitter sand on it to make it sparkle, and then she did all the handwriting and hand-lettering, ‘Bob Beverly for City Council.’ Those signs are still in my dad’s garage all these years later. We kept them in the garage so when we pulled in and hit the wall we didn’t end up going through it.”
Bettelu was superbly social, with a knack for helping lift up those around her. She was a particularly doting grandmother.
“She loved meeting new people and always found the good in everyone,” Bill Beverly wrote. “She rarely talked about herself and never talked behind people’s backs. Instead she bragged about the successes of whoever was not in the conversation, and was particularly proud of her grandchildren and their many accomplishments.”
Bettelu only slowed down the last few months of her life. She had a bout with COVID last Thanksgiving, and was slow to recover. But even then, she stayed as fully engaged with the world as she possibly could.
“She was still going out,” Bob Beverly said. “She still wanted to get into the market once a week and go to the dentists and the doctors, there seemed always to be something. On Wednesdays when the cleaning lady came she’d say, ‘Let’s just drive,’ and we’d just go up to Palos Verdes and drive by the coast.”
Even the last month of her life, when she’d come down with pneumonia and needed an oxygen tank, Bettelu still loved life.
“She had me bring 100 foot extension cord over so they can roll the [oxygen] machine around so she could get from her bedroom out to that front window that looked down across Bruce’s Beach down to the beach every day. She loved to sit in that window and ust watch the world go by. It’s kind of weird driving up that hill from the beach now and not seeing her in the window.”
The last weekend of her life she enjoyed Easter dinner with her family, with grandkids flying in from all over the country.
“Her two granddaughters were both enjoying a glass of wine, and grandma had a little, itty, bitty glass of wine too,” Bob Beverly said. “They were just all smiles. You know, over her last couple of weeks, she was able to invite everyone over to talk to them, to tell them everything she wanted to tell them. Which was just fantastic.”
A memorial is being planned at American Martyrs Church. Bettelu was not Catholic. Her father was the organ player and choir director at Second Presbyterian Church back in Pittsburgh, where just last year she was able to visit (and even play the organ). But she loved Monsignor John Barry at American Martyrs, who was one of her last visitors before she passed. And she loved, of course, the sense of community.
Bob Beverly said the memorial will truly be a celebration of a life well lived.
“It worked out perfect,” he said. “You know, all her friends are already gone. So now she’s joined back with all of them.” ER