A Tribute to Betsy Greer’s Life of Advocacy

11/6/2019

NAMI lost a fierce and inspiring advocate for mental health, Betsy Greer of Arlington, VA, on Sunday Nov. 3. Betsy was a pioneer of the NAMI movement who fought tirelessly, over the course of decades, for better care. 
 
The following is a tribute to Betsy’s contributions written by Cherryl T. Cooley, NAMI’s Managing Editor, Content Marketing.
 
“When I went to the home of Betsy Greer in early May to interview her for our 40th anniversary stories, I felt that I had stepped back in time. As a newcomer to NAMI, sitting with Mrs. Greer was the perfect way to onboard into my new organization. She shared her memories of NAMI from the time its national office was housed in a one-bedroom apartment. 
 
One of the first things she told me that day was that she was proud to be a troublemaker. Peaceful agitation, she said, was the way to get things done. If there has ever been any truth to the saying that well-behaved women don’t make history, Betsy Greer, in all her fierceness, was the living embodiment of how NAMI has continued to make its mark over the last 40 years. 
 
As is the case with many advocates who are pushing boundaries to protect people living with a serious mental illness, Betsy’s involvement started as something quite personal and became a lasting commitment. She and her husband Richard Greer, NAMI’s first legislative director, sought NAMI programs and support to find ways to help their son, who lives with schizophrenia. 
 
As soon as they realized the significance of NAMI to their family’s journey, they saw NAMI as a way to help others who faced the same challenges. What began as a family quest became a lifelong pursuit of changing the world.
 
After Richard joined NAMI as a full-time employee and later began working at the state level, Betsy kept the fight alive locally. And she continued to build NAMI’s legacy even after her husband’s death.
 
On Sunday, Nov. 3, Betsy Greer passed away — a fact that makes me both sad and proud. In the span of an afternoon conversation, I had been in the presence of the kind of grit and courage it takes to build an organization like NAMI. Mrs. Greer understood that in order to effect change, she had to be willing to be misunderstood and keep the national conversation around mental health going. This constant push was essential for progress. She lived, breathed, pushed, is our history. 
 
It always feels like a loss when such a fire as Betsy Greer burns out. In my community, we say that when an elder dies, a library burns. Thankfully, I was able to help capture some of that library in her voice and through her eyes in a final interview that will appear in the winter issue of the Advocate magazine for NAMI members. 
 
Betsy Greer’s activism has helped create a trail of remarkable wins for us as a national movement. In my time with her, I felt that I gained a deeper understanding of our mission and had a living example of what it means to take mental health advocacy personally.
 
The NAMI alliance is so much better for the unwavering dedication of Betsy Greer and what she offered to the people she served and those she inspired.”