Betty Falk is a spry 98-year-old who may be the living embodiment of the expression “Good things happen to those who wait.”
Betty enrolled in UC Hastings College of the Law in 1944, and this coming May, exactly 71 years after she was on track to graduate, Betty will receive an Honorary Juris Doctorate degree at our 136th Commencement Ceremony.
Betty was born Betty Danziger in 1918 in San Francisco, and became the first member of her family to receive a high school diploma. She then attended UC Berkeley, commuting to the school from San Francisco by street car, ferry, and train while the Bay Bridge was being constructed. Midway, she switched schools and graduated from UCLA in 1942.
For awhile, Betty put on her own radio show in Riverside. Using the name Linda Loring, Betty wrote her own script, rounded up advertisers, and produced her own commercials. Topics included current events, things “Linda” had going on in her life, and fashion.
When the U.S. Army shipped her husband, Harry, overseas during World War II, Betty enrolled at UC Hastings. After completing two years, however, her degree track was short-circuited when Harry returned from the war and moved the family to Southern California to pursue his career. There, Betty enrolled at another law school that she prefers remain unnamed. This school, says Karen Myers, one of Falk’s granddaughters, was “less supportive” of Betty’s enrollment, preferring to fill her slot with a man. With a child now in tow, continuing law school became too impractical, and Betty withdrew.
Betty inspired two of her three children and one of her two granddaughters to complete law school. Myers' mother, Beverly Falk, graduated law school in 1968 and served the State of California as a Deputy Attorney General for more than 40 years. Myers' sister, Denise Grab, graduated from Yale Law School in 2009 and works at the Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University School of Law. Betty's son, Lawrence ("Larry") Wm. Falk, attended UC Hastings and graduated in 1978. "Betty could see the high quality education being provided to her son," recounted Myers. "She saw the great things that a public law school in San Francisco provided to the community."
For those reasons, she sought out more responsibility, including joining the board of the 1066 Foundation (now known as the UC Hastings Foundation) in 1977 -- and spent the next three decades fundraising, donating, and fighting for the best interest of UC Hastings, after which she was named a Trustee Emerita in 2007.
“My grandmother frequently recollects that she wished she had stayed at UC Hastings so that she could have finished her degree," concluded Myers in a letter she wrote to UC Hastings initiating the Honorary Degree process. "It would be amazing if a school my Grandma loves so dearly could grant her the degree she worked so hard toward."
After deliberation and a unanimous, ethusiastic, vote this summer by the UC Hastings Board of Directors, Acting Chancellor & Dean David Faigman responded with a notice that Ms. Betty Falk will indeed be awarded an Honorary Juris Doctorate degree at the commencement exercises to be held in May, 2017.
"Board members, some of whom worked alongside Ms. Falk when she was a Trustee," wrote Dean Faigman, "were inspired by Ms. Falk’s story. In particular, they commented on the many hurdles she confronted as a woman seeking a professional education in the 1940s and the challenges particularly faced by a woman with a child who wished to pursue a law degree. Moreover, Board members commented on her dedication over the years as a Foundation Trustee and all of the time and effort she has invested in UC Hastings."
"Ms. Falk represents the indomitable spirit that we hope to attract in students," Dean Faigman continued, "and to nurture in them. Although she did not graduate with her entering class in 1946, we are very proud to call Ms. Falk one of our own. With the granting of this honorary degree, we have the opportunity to make it official at last. There are many enjoyable things I do as the dean of this law school, but few will compare with the thrill it will give me to award Ms. Betty Falk an Honorary Juris Doctorate from UC Hastings College of the Law. It will truly be my honor to confer this degree."
Betty was apprised of her honorary degree in July at UCLA Bruin Woods Family Camp, an annual pilgrimage that she and her granddaughter Karen have regularly made since Karen was 4 years old. Acknowledging Betty from the stage, director Steve Caloca summoned her onstage, accompanied by Karen, where he sprang the news on her.
In the video, below, Betty is clearly taken completely by surprise. The audience spontaneously gives her a standing ovation, breaking into a chant of “Bet-ty, Bet-ty.” That set the stage to the “formal” bestowing of the degree next May.
Dean Faigman is also looking into putting on an alumni event this autumn acknowledging Betty, in Los Angeles, close to where she lives, so that friends and colleagues can pay tribute to her.
In addition to raising three children -- the third child, Bradley, became an anesthesiologist -- Betty spent many years as a member of the Women's Auxiliary, a partner organization to the Los Angeles County Medical Association, in various capacities, including a stint as president. Before the dangers of smoking were widely understood or known, one community activity Betty “enjoyed” doing was going into high schools and showing students specimens of lungs from smokers versus non-smokers.
Today, Betty lives near her daughter Beverly and remains an inveterate consumer of dark chocolate, drinks milk daily, and talks weekly with her brother, Chuck, 95.