Betty with Miguel Martínez and Federico Torres at the 2013 Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza
Betty Lawrence, known to many as “la abuelita del mariachi” (the mariachi grandmother), passed away on August 4, 2015, at age 89. An ardent fan of mariachi music, Betty had been a frequent figure at mariachi festivals for many years.
With Pepe Martínez
Betty Marie Hale, daughter of Jack and Laureen Hale, was born in 1925 in the northern Texas town of Stephenville. When she was 16 years old, her family moved to San Antonio, where she spent most of her life, and where she met her husband, Russell Lawrence, whom she married in 1944. Their two children, Joyce (b. 1946) and Russell Jr. “Rusty” (1947-2004) were born and raised in that city.
It’s uncertain at what point Betty became interested in mariachi music, but her daughter recalls that even though she was not of Hispanic heritage, her mother always had a keen interest in Mexican culture and music, and in the Spanish language. Betty began attending San Antonio’s mariachi festivals as early as 1979, and Tucson’s as early as 1983. She also attended mariachi festivals in New Mexico and California.
With Gilberto Aguirre and Pepe Martínez Jr.
Betty was much more than a mariachi fan. She frequently volunteered her services at mariachi festivals, not only during the events, but throughout the year. She had many friends in the mariachi world, including local musicians and members of headliner groups, and she owned a sizable collection of mariachi recordings.
By the end of the century, Betty, then in her mid-seventies, had begun to slow down and didn’t attend mariachi events nearly as frequently as she had. In 1999, she sold her San Antonio home, moving into a nearby apartment where she lived until 2010 when she moved again, this time to an independent living facility in New Waverly, Texas. The last mariachi conference she attended was San Antonio’s Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza, in 2013. All of the photos here were taken at that event.
With Daniel Martínez
Even though she participated in fewer mariachi events toward the end of her life, Betty continued to listen to that music daily. Even more important to her than the music, however, were the friendships she developed over the years with those who played it. “Her association with mariachi music greatly enriched my mother’s life and gave her many fond memories to reflect upon in her later years,” affirms her daughter Joyce.
With Jonathan Clark and Cynthia Muñoz
Last June, after suffering a stroke that left her partially paralyzed, Betty spent ten days in the hospital. Upon her release, she returned to her independent living facility, where she remained under hospice care, still able to walk and talk until the final hours of her life. A month later, on August 4, 2015, she passed away peacefully in the company of her daughter and a handful of close friends.
With her daughter Joyce
Betty Lawrence’s funeral on August 9 at Mission Burial Park in San Antonio was well attended by friends and family who paid their last respects to the kind woman who gave so much to so many people, and who will live on forever in our hearts.
Betty Lawrence will always be remembered in my heart. Her son Russell wrote me a letter after the first Mariachi Vargas concert I produced back in 1995. He thanked me for bringing back the Mariachi Festival to San Antonio after its hiatus for several years. I became friends with Betty after that letter and found her to be a kind hearted, intelligent and classy woman whose opinion I valued. She was always one of the first to support the Extravaganza. She purchased her tickets early in order to ensure the best seat in the house. After she moved to New Waverly, she got rid of her collection of Mariachi Vargas CDs as she felt she wouldn’t need them anymore, but soon realized how much she missed them. So I made her copies of some CDs I had and sent them all to her, and she was elated.
Thanks for taking time to write this, Jon. There are so many people like Betty who have attended the Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza for years and who reach out to us to express their love for the music and for what we do in keeping it alive, and to offer their support as a volunteer. It’s people like Betty that have given me much reason to continue doing what we do in producing events that fill our hearts and enrich communities where we live. ¡Gracias!