Elizabeth Hackett Breen died peacefully at home in Hollister, CA on March 26, 2010. She was 90 years old – a remarkable lady who led a remarkable life. She was born on August 2, 1919 at Mather Field in Sacramento, CA, the eldest of three daughters of Gen. Francis D. Hackett and Sara MacDonald Hackett. Her father’s position in the U.S. Army Air Corps required the family to move frequently, and Betty spent portions of her childhood in the Philippines, New Mexico, Alabama and Ohio. However, some of her favorite childhood memories were when her father was stationed at Chrissy Field in San Francisco.
After graduating high school in Dayton, OH, Betty enrolled at Stanford University, where earned a Bachelors degree and a Masters degree in Physical Therapy, and joined Chi Omega sorority. After her graduation, the United States had entered World War II, and Betty became an officer in the U.S. Women’s Army Corp. She was shipped to North Africa following the U.S. invasion, and served in a medical unit in Algiers. She told of North Africans dressed in white linen robes and French officers in navy uniforms, riding through cobblestone streets astride white steeds. It was an experience she never forgot.
From Algiers she was transferred to southern Italy, again to a medical unit. She had fond memories of weekends spent in Florence and Rome, and day trips to Naples for the best gelato in the world. But she was also deeply touched by the men she treated, and would speak emotionally of waiting for the bombers and their crews to return safely from their daily runs over Northern Europe.
After the war, Betty retired as a captain, thereby outranking her future husband. She returned to Stanford on the GI bill, and took classes in the arts and humanities, before moving to San Francisco, where she took an apartment on Nob Hill and a job at Gump’s. On a weekend trip to Watsonville to visit one of her best friends from Stanford, Betty met a young widower from San Benito County named James Breen. They married on Thanksgiving Day 1948.
Betty and Jim settled in an old adobe in San Juan Bautista, which initially lacked indoor plumbing. They undertook extensive renovations and resided there with their four children for over ten years. Eventually, they moved to Hollister, into the house at the end of San Benito Street.
In addition to raising her family, Betty also worked as a physical therapist at Southside Hospital for many years. After her retirement, she remained active in the community, serving on various boards and organizations. She and Jim traveled throughout the western United States and Canada in their motorhome, often camping with family and friends. They also were ardent Stanford football fans, holding season tickets for over 50 years.
Betty was a connoisseur of the finer things in life, San Benito style. She loved a cocktail before dinner, a show in the City, and good party, and was equally fond of attending the Saddle Horse show and hosting the annual Easter picnic at the Breen Ranch. She always looked smashing, whether all dressed up, or in her Levis, which she always had laundered and pressed. She loved San Benito County, and her house on the corner. Most especially, she loved her family and her life here with all of them.
Betty is survived by her four children, Margaret (Zeph Thorning), Patrick (Isabell), Mia, and Paul (Christine), her ten grandchildren, Leslie, Jennifer, Patrick, Zeph, Matthew, Megan, William, Amanda, Thomas and James, and ten great-grandchildren, as well as a vast extended family with whom she shared many wonderful occasions over the years. Betty also is survived by Nina De La Cruz, her loving and devoted caregiver for the last three years.
There will be graveside services on Thursday, April 1, 2010, at 11:00 A.M., at San Juan District Cemetery in San Juan Bautista. Contributions preferred to the Community Foundation for San Benito County or the San Benito Saddle Horse Show Association, C/O Grunnagle-Ament-Nelson Funeral Home, 870 San Benito St., Hollister, CA 95023
Condolences may be sent to www.grunnagle.com