Betty Rice, a longtime resident of Shelter Island, died of natural causes on Oct. 1. She was 97 years old.
Betty first came to the Island from East Hampton in 1986 after purchasing a vacant lot at the edge of a pond in the Shelterlands Association, where she built a small salt box house and enjoyed watching the natural world around her at all times of day and in every season. She often said she had lived in many places, but Shelter Island, and her home on Peppermill Lane, was her favorite place in the world.
Born in Farmingdale to Rudolph and Catherine Burnett, she was an only child raised by her parents, grandparents, and uncle at their home in Farmingdale, and their cottage in the Pocono Mountains. She attended Farmingdale High School and then Albright College in Reading, Pa., where she earned a science degree.
Moving to Minnesota with two of her best friends, she began her career as a medical technologist. It was during this time she met Robert G. Rice, who was also from Long Island. They married in 1951, and his work as an economist took them to university campuses in western Long Island, upstate New York, Detroit and Chicago.
It was in Chicago, in 1966, upon the sudden death of her husband, that she made the decision to move with her children back to Long Island. Living in East Hampton, she re-entered the work force with a position in the laboratory at Southampton Hospital.
Although she had retired as the hospital’s microbiologist in 1986, she quickly became involved as a part-time librarian at the Shelter Island Public Library, where she worked until her final retirement in 2005. She moved into an apartment on her son’s property in East Moriches, and as her health declined, an assisted living community in Patchogue.
Betty loved animals and almost always had a dog at her side. She began with mutts and a Boston Terrier, and a long succession of English Bull Terriers was only broken by her last two pets, a Scottie and a miniature Bull Terrier. She loved to take them for walks and car rides — especially to the drive-up window at the bank, where the tellers always had treats for her companions.
She was known as a wicked tap dancer and could play the trumpet (or at least she said she could). She bristled when people used her proper first name, as she never did (Betty was her middle name). She liked a good set of wheels and owned a 1950s MG TD, 1967 Mustang fastback, a pickup truck, a Camaro and one of only a handful of 1980 Triumph TR8s sent to North America. She never flew on a plane, but in her later years enjoyed several cross-continental train journeys, both in Canada and the United States.
She loved her many friends on Shelter Island and thoroughly enjoyed her two decades as a year-round resident. She was also a very private person, who requested no formal memorial service. If friends so desire, Betty would have genuinely appreciated donations supporting any local animal charities.
Betty is survived by her two children Robert (Lisa) and Betty; three grandchildren, Andy Elder, Sarah Misura (Vlad), and Robert Rice (Margaret); and recently, two great granddaughters, Adriana Misura and Mairead Rice.