Tuesday, May 24, 2022

A Tree for Betty Cooper

      At least once in a lifetime, everyone should have a Betty Cooper as a friend. She was an amazing person in so many ways, warm, friendly, intelligent, independent, determined, with a deep well of knowledge on all matters related to the natural world. She was also encyclopedic in her knowledge of Waterloo Region Nature, her favourite nature club, and there was hardly a fact she couldn't recall from memory, and if it didn't come immediately to mind she certainly knew where to find it!
     Miriam took the picture below when Betty took part in one of my walks in October 2020. It was approximately a 3.5km round trip along the Mill Race in St. Jacobs, on a decidedly cool October day.

     Betty was ninety-three years old.
     As a keen naturalist Betty loved all trees, but her special passion was reserved for oaks. So, it was entirely fitting that we decided to plant an Eastern White Oak (Quercus alba), at the rare Charitable Research Reserve in Cambridge, ON, to honour this lady who was as straight and as strong as an oak herself.
     Many of her friends gathered to take part in the ceremony.

     Along the way we all helped to set the tree in the ground and fill the hole.

     The shovel was passed from hand to hand.

     Soon, thanks mainly to the care and attention provided by Fraser and Jim, it looked just right.

     Larry and David replaced a rock in its original position, exactly as Betty would have wished.

     Jenna provided some water.

     And Betty's tree stood tall and straight, ready to flourish, majestic as only an oak can be, and a fitting reminder of our stalwart departed friend.

     Betty's two good friends, Elaine LaRonde and Mary Ann Vanden, delivered some touching remarks, far better than I could compose, and I urge you to read them here. 


"I feel very honoured to be asked to pay tribute to our mutual friend Betty. Some of you had the privilege of knowing Betty far longer than I did. It wasn’t until I joined the board of KWFN that I really got to know Betty and discovered what an integral part of the club she was. She was the archivist, the historian, the librarian – it seemed that anything you wanted to know about the club’s history you could find out from Betty. Much later I discovered what an important force she had been throughout her 62 years as a member of the Naturalists.

As Mary Ann mentioned in Betty’s obituary in The Heron Betty and her husband, Fred, had been heavily involved in KWFN – almost from the beginning of the club. They both served on the board, published The Heron, volunteered on special projects like the Bluebird Project and the Peregrine Falcon Release Project. Betty’s fingers were in many pies – of the natural sort!

It wasn’t just Betty’s dedication to the club that brought us all here today. She demonstrated so many fine qualities in her every day life as well. I’m convinced that if you look up the meaning of the word “independence” in the dictionary, you would find Betty’s photo. I certainly became aware of her independent spirit when I began to drive with her to club meetings. While we were still meeting at Wing 404 she would inevitably have a heavy box of books or plants to take to the meeting. I would try to carry the box for her only to have her insist that it would be too heavy for me and she would refuse to release it until she reached the car. Considering that she was almost twenty years older than me, this was always a bit embarrassing!

Betty loved all aspects of our natural world but her special love was for gardening – especially native plants. I know she exchanged planted species with other plant lovers in KWFN and was always generous in sharing with others. I feel privileged to have some special plants in my yard which started as seedlings in Betty’s garden. Betty didn’t just share her plants with others, she also shared her wisdom and kindness too. When my husband died a few years ago, she walked with me and helped me see that life continues even after losing your life’s partner – a lesson that she had learned many years earlier when her beloved Fred had died.

Even in her nineties, Betty had a zest for life. She loved her home and her garden, her feline friend, “Puss”, her church life and her friends, her neighbours who really valued her and her friends from KWFN/WRN, which was such an important part of her life. When her family moved to BC and asked her to join them, Betty said, “No thanks” – her life was here. We were her family too! Even during COVID, and as her health deteriorated, she was always interested in knowing how other people were doing. She would have been thrilled to see her naturalist friends here today. And how appropriate to have this oak tree planted in her memory."

Mary Ann

Planting White Oak Ceremony at rare in Honour of Betty Cooper 
Fri. May 6, 2022

"To honour Betty Cooper, a decision was made to plant a tree. But what kind of tree? 
That was the question posed to Elaine and me.

Our response was immediate: an oak. Let me explain why.

The story begins in the late ‘90s. I was a teacher then, in Kitchener, at St. Bernadette School. 
I remember many times being outside on yard duty and noticing the line of trees along the back fence of the school playground. One tree, in particular, stood out to me. It was a tall, stately oak, just on the other side of the fence. In those rare moments when I didn’t have little kids tugging and swarming all around me, I would sometimes stop to admire that magnificent oak.

By the early 2000s:
- I was retired
- I’d joined the club
- I’d met Betty
- She invited me over to her home
And, as often happens the first time at someone’s home, she wanted to show me around. 

She first took me to her front garden there on Highland Rd. Many of you have seen it. 
Next, she led me to her back yard. She unlatched the gate, we stepped through and I just stopped in my tracks. 

“Betty, Betty – on the other side of your fence, that’s the school where I used to teach!” Well, she was pretty amazed at that.

“Ya,” I continued, “and, right along the fence, I remember, there was this really magnificent oak tree I used to admire.”

Betty turned, and pointed to the back corner of her garden. “Is that it?”

I recognized it immediately. “Ya, that’s it! That’s the one!”

We were both astonished at the coincidence.

Well, then, she couldn’t resist. She started telling me the story of that English Oak in her back yard.

Betty’s paternal grandfather, Rex Pierce, grew up in Dover, England. Then, as a young single man, he immigrated to Canada settling in London, ON. Soon after, he joined an English social club in London where, on one occasion, the Sherrif of Nottingham came to speak. The Sherrif brought acorns which he’d gathered from English Oaks growing in the royal gardens at Westminster Palace. These he distributed to attendees at this meeting. Rex Pierce made sure he got one, and planted it. 

Betty’s English Oak is a direct descendant of that original acorn. She considered it part of her family heritage.    

The sapling being planted today in Betty’s honour is a White Oak, not an English Oak. However, as a gardener and long time member of our club, Betty understood the importance of planting native trees. She’d be happy that an oak has been selected, and doubly happy to know that it is a native oak.

And, I’m quite confident that Betty’s hope and wish for this little White Oak sapling would be that it, too, should thrive and grow into a strong stately tree just as magnificent as the English Oak in her back yard."

     We'll miss you Betty, but we'll think of you as we nurture this tree in your memory. You can count on that!
David M. Gascoigne,
David M. Gascoigne,

I'm a life long birder. My interests are birds, nature, reading, books, outdoors, travel, food and wine.


  1. ...a white oak is a good choice for Betty!

  2. I love how you planted a tree in her honor. From what I read I am sure Betty would love that. I think comparing Betty to an oak is a wonderful complement too. Hope all is well with you David. Hugs-EWrika

  3. What a fine, and well chosen tribute to your friend. I hope that oak reaches and surpasses her years.

  4. What a wonderful tribute to a dear friend. Mxx

  5. A truely strong memory for a cherished friend. This white oak will stand tall and weather on as your dear independent friend Betty did. The act of all her friends shoveling the earth, placing the rock and watering this great tree shows how much all of you love and appreciate her friendship.

  6. Hello David, What a beautiful way to remember this special woman. Thank you for sharing her story.

  7. A beautiful tribute to a remarkable and well loved member of your community.

  8. I was really touched of your story today, David! I think it was very nice to plant a Oaktree in memory of Betty. I'm sure she had loved your choise of tree. Well done my dear gardening friend!
    Hugs and kisses, Marit

  9. C'est un très bel hommage pour une personne formidable. Bonne journée

  10. Hi David.

    A beautiful tribute to Betty, from the friends of placing the tree.
    And how beautiful and nice that the Oak is so connected with you and with Betty.

    Greetings from Patricia.

  11. Hi David - what a wonderful uplifting post about Betty, her life, her outlook for us all ... her White Oak will grow strong and tall, as she did throughout her life. Excellent read - and knowing it's a native tree. Amazing interestingly story about her oak too and the Sheriff of Nottingham ... these snippets of local history are beyond valuable to appreciate. Thank you - cheers Hilary

  12. What a wonderful tribute to Betty - I do recall you mentioning that she had died - she enjoyed a very long and well lived life - may the White Oak grow tall and strong in memory of Betty.

  13. Hallo David,

    Mooi dat iemand door het planten van een boom geëerd wordt voor het vele werk dat zij gedaan heeft voor de natuur.


  14. Hello,
    A lovely tribute to your friend Betty!

  15. Such a sweet and beautiful tribute to Betty Cooper!

  16. Lovely tribute, and an interesting story about her English Oak. How beautiful it will be to watch that tree grow strong.

  17. I was so touched, David. May her soul rest in peace.

  18. A lovely tribute for a terrific woman. Thanks for sharing the story.

  19. What a lovely tribute to your friend.

  20. How fortunate you were to count Betty among your friends. She obviously was a woman who had an outsized impact for good on her world.

  21. The oak will last at least 100 years. It will be a beautiful memory.

  22. What an honor to have a tree planted in her memory! It's wonderful to have friends like these. She must be very pleased and happy looking down from heaven.

  23. Ese árbol en un gran homenaje en recuerdo de Betty, por su amor a la naturaleza. Se hará grande y fuerte como fue ella. Gracias David por compartirnos vuestro trabajo en su memoria. Gran mujer.
    Buen miércoles.
    Un abrazo.

  24. It sounds as though that tree will be a fine memorial to your friend. Long may it flourish.

  25. Betty was obviously a very special person.

  26. Wonderful tributes to Betty, she'll be smiling on her native white oak from heaven! Hugs, Valerie

  27. The tree and planting ceremony are a perfect tribute for your dear friend whose live surely still serves as a role model for living and aging well. Your words and that of Betty's two special friends are well chosen and a special tribute as well. What a lovely post.

  28. A sweet and delicate tribute....for sure she was happy with that honor!!..it was very wise to use an oak tree not only for her link to her ancestors, but also because the oak tree survives against everything because of their strength ...Abrazotes, Marcela

  29. Oaks are stalwart and true. A fitting tribute.

  30. Beautiful tribute to Betty and I'm sure she's looking down watching her special tree grow.

  31. What a very wonderful post, you have me a bit teary here.
    Great tribute to a remarkable person.

  32. What a beautiful legacy. There is no doubt that Betty was loved by many and will be missed - and that many birds will rest in her oak in the future to come.

  33. What a lovely way to remember someone who obviously touched many lives.

  34. A wonderful tribute to a great man.
    Let this oak give her praise.
    Hugs and greetings.

    1. Betty was many things, but certainly not a man!

  35. I was very touched by this post, David. I'm sure that memories of Betty, like that oak, will be cherished for a very long time.

  36. Thank you for sharing this beautiful tribute.

  37. Planting an Eastern White Oak was a beautiful and heartfelt way to pay tribute to your friend Betty, an extraordinary woman who loved nature.
    May she rest in peace.

  38. David, this is such a wonderful post and a beautiful and fitting tribute to a woman who sounds quite amazing in her knowledge and dedication to nature. I love that your group gathered to plant a tree -- what could be a better memorial to such a woman than something that will grow and add to the beauty of the land, one day perhaps providing a home for its creatures. What a rich, full life she had and how fortunate you were to be able to have encountered her in yours.

  39. hello David
    a worthy and very nice souvenir, so you always remember the good time
    Greetings Frank

  40. Precioso homenaje para Betty, el roble me parece un árbol especial para ella. La recuerdo en su última salida con tu grupo, me llamó mucho la atención cuando dijiste que tenía 90 años y se le veía tan bien. Un abrazo fuerte. Siempre que veas su roble, la veras a ella.

  41. A wonderful post and a beautiful tribute to Betty.

    All the best Jan


Land Acknowledgement

We acknowledge that the land on which we are situated are the lands traditionally used by the Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe, and Neutral People. We also acknowledge the enduring presence and deep traditional knowledge, laws, and philosophies of the Indigenous Peoples with whom we share this land today. We are all treaty people with a responsibility to honour all our relations.