SI Vault
Ed Hinton
May 06, 1996
A charter member of the Hall of Fame, Betty Jameson could end up homeless
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
May 06, 1996

Fading Fame

A charter member of the Hall of Fame, Betty Jameson could end up homeless

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

Betty Jameson is standing amidst a still life of her past, a lovely clutter of precious things yellowed, brown, brittle—sepia tones in an otherwise sunny living room in Delray Beach, Fla. She was a golf prodigy by age 12 on the sand-greens courses of Texas during the Depression, then twice U.S. Amateur champion with a perfect swing but a fitful putter, then an unabashed pro at 25 in a time when the term was frowned on, then a pioneer and glamour girl of the LPGA with 10 tour wins, including the 1947 U.S. Open title, then a charter member, at age 32 in 1951, of the LPGA Hall of Fame. But Jameson stands now, at 76, perhaps 40 pounds thinner than she should be, on the brink of homelessness in a house that is not legally hers but, she says, "is me."

The only semblance of order is by the fireplace, where her seven favorite golf clubs stand. Away from the hearth in all directions is a jumble of photographs, letters, calendars, clippings, books, paintings, sketches, easels, brushes, palettes...and, especially, some pottery and pictures and diaries of her late great friend, another early LPGA star, Mary Lena Faulk.

Mary Lena. Jameson does not just say the name, she nearly sings it: "MaryLEENah." For more than 30 years, in this house, "we lived beautifully."

Then last year Faulk suffered a recurrence of lung cancer and fell gravely ill and incoherent with an awful suddenness that caught the two admitted procrastinators unprepared. She died last Aug. 3, at 69. Faulk was the one who had attended to most of the household financial matters. The house was in her name, and she had not gotten around to revising her will to provide for Jameson. The will, drawn up in 1981, left the house and all of Faulk's financial interests, mainly stocks and bonds, to blood relatives, primarily a niece.

So here stands Bess—"She called me Bess," says Betty—amidst this marvelous mess. She could be sent packing any day on short notice to god knows where, should Faulk's relatives invoke the harshest application of Florida law. Her monthly Social Security check is $246, which doesn't even cover the storage bills for her paintings and golf clubs. Since Faulk passed away, Jameson has lost close to 40 pounds ("At least," says a friend) off a once athletic 5'8" frame—"My, you're a big girl," Babe Didrikson Zaharias remarked when they met long ago. Jameson's gauntness is due to a lack of interest in food, she says; due to lack of grocery money, friends think.

"When friends say to me, 'Well, Betty, you've got to apply for food stamps. You deserve them,' I say, 'No. I don't want to talk to you anymore.' I won't do that."

At the moment she has, to her name, "$40, I think," the last of the $700 she got for parting with two of her precious paintings. The LPGA has found a way to help—with an advance check on proceeds from the pro-am before this week's Sprint Titleholders Championship. But none of that promises to secure this house for her, and moving would be devastating: "I can't imagine not living in this house," she says.

But she will not think about that now. Besides, "this is a bad dream—the whole thing," she maintains, true to the chronic state of reverie that has never let her take life hard, in nearly 77 years of living it. To have planned and run the household more pragmatically "wouldn't have been us, I guess," she says. "We just lived for the day."

She stops among her paintings to say a lot about herself: "This is my portrait of Samuel Beckett. It reminds me, in ways, of Tommy Armour." Such are the connections in a mind wherein golf imitates art and art, golf; and life is largely an interval for savoring both.

Suddenly she is reading aloud from her beloved T.S. Eliot—specifically from Burnt Norton, first of the Four Quartets—in a volume Eliot personally inscribed for her on April 24, 1958. ("It was," she recalls, "a wet day.") In a voice that is half-knowing old woman, half-breathless girl, she gasps:

Continue Story
1 2 3 4