For decades until her death Friday, Betty White was a well-recognized pet enthusiast and animal-health advocate who worked with many related organizations.
White, a multiple Emmy Award winner whose television career spanned seven decades, died on New Year’s Eve at age 99, just weeks away from celebrating her 100th birthday on Jan. 17.
In 2012, she spoke at a televised American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards ceremony, where Manalapan-based humanitarian Lois Pope presented the evening’s top award to a military search dog.
“I’m so sorry,” Pope said Friday of White’s death. “She was such a wonderful person and a remarkable talent who entertained the whole world and made everyone smile.”
Recalling the 2012 Hero Dog Awards ceremony she and White in which she and White participated, Pope said, “She loved dogs as much as I do and she doted over my little shih tzu, Delilah … Betty was wonderful and down to earth. We laughed (at the ceremony) because we were both hoping we’d be able to see the teleprompter.”
When seasonal Palm Beachers Seymour and Evelyn Holtzman heard Friday about White’s death, they were initially speechless, searching for words to describe how they felt about the loss of someone they once knew and considered “absolutely lovely.”
“I don’t know why it affects me like this, but I just feel shocked,” Evelyn said. “She was such a truly good person.”
In fact, earlier in the week, they’d been reminiscing about White in interviews with the Daily News.
On Wednesday, Evelyn said, “Hearing about her birthday got us thinking about when we knew her (in the 1970s). It was so long ago, but I can still remember thinking then how she’s the kind of person you’d want for a best friend.”
The Holtzmans, from Wilkes-Barre, Pa., have been seasonal Palm Beach residents for 18 years. Seymour, a successful businessman and investor, has managed public companies for more than 40 years.
How the Holtzmans became linked with White has to do with shopping centers —namely, catalog showrooms, which were popular in the 1970s and 1980s.
Back then, there were scads of them around the country (including in Palm Beach County) with everything from jewelry to appliances displayed under one roof as shoppers perused and marked on a checklist what items they wanted.
Among the companies that owned and operated catalog showrooms was Jewelcor Inc. As head of Jewelcor, Seymour was looking for a spokesperson, someone with “a clean image,” and he struck a deal with White.
“She was the spokesperson for us (Jewelcor catalog showrooms) for four or five years, from around 1973 to the late ‘70s,” Evelyn said Wednesday. Jewelcor showroom locations included one on Southern Boulevard in West Palm Beach, Seymour said.
“We would go to Las Vegas or Miami with her for trade shows and she would accompany us to all of the events,” Evelyn said. “We even had lunch with her in California at the Beverly Hills Hotel.”
At the time, White was part the popular sitcom “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” She played the role of a wholesome and relentlessly perky TV show-host who behind the scenes had a backbiting and man-obsessed streak.
“In that show, the role she played was so different that who she was,” Evelyn said. “She was everything everyone always says about her — lovely.”
The Holtzmans have photos of themselves with White, including one showing Seymour standing beside White in California, and Evelyn with White at a catalog-showroom merchandise trade show in Miami.
“At the time we knew her, she was married to (TV game-show host) Allen Ludden and they were animal lovers,” Evelyn recalled. “I remember her talking about the humane society and how animal welfare was very important to her.”
The Holtzmans saved a handwritten 1982 note from White, thanking Seymour for a Steuben glass bowl he’d given her. In the short note, White refers to her husband Ludden, who had died the year before.
“You couldn’t know, but I have a weakness for Steuben. And Allen always added to what he called my `glass menagerie’ every year. Thank you with all my heart — you kept up a tradition.”
White’s 100th birthday on Jan. 17 is set to include the release of a movie called “Betty White; 100 Years Young.” A star-studded cast of her friends and admirers — including Carol Burnett, Robert Redford, Tina Fey and Jimmy Kimmel — are billed as being part of the production.
“I’m sure we’ll be talking about Betty that day, thinking about her and reminiscing,” Evelyn Holtzman said. “It was joy to have spent some time with her.”