Bette Cornelius (March 29, 1930 to August 5, 2019)

Bette Cornelius, a newlywed at 18 years-old

18 year-old newlywed

Bette Cornelius

Bette Cornelius

Bette Cornelius pumping her fist

Fist pump

Speakers at the Celebration of Life

Jill Seagren and the La Jolla unit held a Celebration of Life for Bette on September 22, 2019 before the unit game.

Aimee Pearson (daughter)

Aimee Pearson speaking at the Celebration of Life for Bette Cornelius Hi, this is my best friend Freya. I’m Amiee, I'm Bette’s baby. I’ve got three older brothers and I just wanted to read you something because I learned from her bridge playing for my life. As you know mom went really fast. I wasn’t even able to find some of you guys while she was going and so I’m still kind of shocked and numbed. It hasn’t quite settled into me.

But I learned some great life lessons from mom’s bridge playing. When I was a young girl, mom would take me to bridge tournaments and I would sit next to her—I think they call it kibitzing, isn’t that right? I enjoyed the adventure. I’d watch her take these risks, these outlandish bids when she would make a bid from her gut, and she would win all the time. And I don’t know if her partners liked it but it showed me that I also could take risks in life, be okay, and succeed with skills and wisdom.

Another lesson I learned from mom is how she handled a partner that didn’t like how she played a hand. And if they would roll their eyes or be snarky with her or want to review a hand, she’d say, “No, I play for fun, so I won’t play with you anymore if you do that.” Do you guys remember that? Suzi, Anne Terry’s daughter does. What I learned from that behavior is how to stand my ground, keep perspective, and hold my boundaries.

Dan [Dayani] used to be really amused when he’d sit down at a bridge table with her and there was someone from maybe South Africa or somewhere in the whole world, and she’d ask that person, “Do you know so and so?” And Dan was always shocked at how they did, you know. He was always amused by that.

I miss holding my mom’s hand. Wherever we were, she would hold my hand. If we were walking down La Jolla, you would see an 89 year-old woman and a 61 year-old daughter, and she would just hold my hand. If we were laying in bed, she would hold my hand. I really miss just that gesture of holding my hand.

She had bigger than life energy, on steroids. She was very positive and loving. She was always put together, dressed immaculately, and had a great sense of fashion. I’m going to miss talking to her. A lot of times during the day I’ll go, “I’m gonna call my mom,” and then I can’t and that’s been hard. And I love listening to her stories—and she is a great storyteller—about her escapades. Whether playing bridge, her favorite game, or traveling the world, her life was full. She was a great friend to me and many of you guys and others. So thank you for loving her and being here and honoring her. I means so much to me. Thank you.

Nagy Nosseir

Nagy Nosseir speaking at the Celebration of Life for Bette Cornelius Good morning, I was asked by Dan to read a letter, an open letter, that was sent to me. And I’ll do that [later].

I’d just like to mention my relationship with Bette which started in 1983. I was [had] just got appoint[ed] as an assistant professor at SDSU and decided after a while of looking for a house, to go and try to play bridge, which I had only played socially before. [I] went to the club—do any of you remember? I guess the club at the time in Clairemont, anyone remember that?

I dropped there and ask for a partner and it turns out to be a team event. So they paired us with Bette and [garbled]. And at that time Bette just approached me and said, "Hi, I’m Bette, I’m 56 years-old.” Okay. So from there on, [I] just indicated that I'm looking for a house, had been looking for a house for a couple of months and she said, "Wait until I come back from the tournament and I help you look for a house.” At that time, she was working with Cathy [Strauch]—we’ll probably talk about you later on. And sure enough, I didn’t wait necessarily, but she came back and she took me and the first house that we saw, after about exactly six minutes, I said, “Okay, I’ll take this house.” It was that easy, dealing with Bette.

Very colorful, as you could see. From a Marilyn Monroe look alike, a Jacqueline Kennedy look alike, with the different colors of the hair, but the same infectious smile. So I will read Dan’s [letter].

[From the audience: “And you were the other man!”]

[Laughter]. Yeah. I think Bette was known—as you all know—for naming names. So I was her Nagy, so that would be “my Nagy” and including my wife, she would be the other woman because she knew me first, and so on. She had ability to have people around her. And one time I was talking with my wife and I said, “What is with Bette?” and she said, “She simply makes you feel good, being around her.” Even as far as my kids, my wife, all of the friends that I knew through her and bridge, she simply had a magical way of making you feel good.

Dan Dayani

Read by Nagy Nosseir

Dan Dayani and Bette Cornelius at the racetrack Dear friends, thank you for attending this special game. I don’t know how many of you remember Bette. Bette, when she first appeared on [the] San Diego bridge scene in 1983, among her early friends was Cathy [Strauch] but later on she became regular partners with Anne Terry. Then in mid-2005, I came back to San Diego after being away for eleven years. That is when our bridge partnership started.

But more important that is when we became partners in life and started a dream like relationship. She was a superstar, not for her bridge skill, but for her attitude at the bridge table. She welcomed opponents, socialized with them in her humorous ways, and wished them luck when they left the table. She dressed up beautifully for every bridge game. Her attitude and her amazing smile made her the most desirable bridge partner. The world of bridge can surely use more bridge players like that. She always respected her partners and her opponents and never criticized a bad play by her opponent or her partner. On the contrary, in one cold contract I managed to go down three tricks [audience laughter]. She smiled and threw me a kiss from across the table [audience laughter]. How many of you have that experience? [audience laughter]

I remember years back during a bridge session in San Francisco one lady got so upset with her partner that she threw the bidding box at his face. And of course you have all heard about the bridge player who shot her husband* because of a bad play. Outside of bridge games, she was even more fabulous, always vibrant, always happy, always full of life, and always smiling.

On the last day when Leonard Penario passed away, Bette told him that she is going to see him in bridge heaven. Let us hope we can all join them when we are going up there. She left her mark and her legacy for all of use to carry on.

Dan Dayani
Isfahan, Iran


*The 1929 Bennett murder case.

Cathy Strauch

Cathy Strauch speaking at the Celebration of Life for Bette Cornelius Bette was my best friend and my traveling companion and she worked for me. I’ve known her forever. The first time we started traveling was the year Debbie and Alan [Gailfus] got married and I met them up in Sacramento. But what year was it? [Debbie Gailfus: “We got married in 1985.”] Oh alright. That’s when... we started playing bridge immediately but then we started traveling to tournaments and she introduced me to everyone, all of her Sacramento [friends] then.

But the one—I have thousands of stories—but the one most of you will appreciate from a bridge standpoint... some of you may not even know who I’m talking about... but Bette and I were sitting waiting for our opponents at the bridge table at this tournament, and nobody came. Finally, guess who walked up? Barry Crane! Anybody doesn’t know who Barry Crane was? He was probably one of the greatest matchpoint players, with a little ego. But Bette is sitting there fanning herself as usual and he picked up the table marker and checked it out. It was table three.* Well then he picked up our [convention] cards and looked at them and [he] couldn’t figure out why he was starting against these two ditzy blondes. So he got up and talked to the director. I don’t know what he said but he sat back down. He was playing with John Sutherland and proceeded to double Bette in two contracts—we played two boards—both of which she made and you should have seen him at the end. And she [said], “What’d I do?” [laughter]

But she had a way about herself that always made people laugh. She was the innocent one and did not figure out why anyone would question her. So I say goodbye to Bette but you’ll always be with me and you better not double her up in bridge heaven.


*Because some Mitchell movements do not have each east-west pair visit each table, the field is roughly balanced in each direction by starting stronger pairs at odd numbered tables and weaker pairs at even numbered tables. Traditionally, the two strongest pairs start at table 3.

Unknown

We all showed up at a bridge tournament at the same time in a big parking structure and we all started walking in together and I said, “Bette, Bette, your car lights are on.” And she said this in such an amusing manner, “Don’t worry, it’s a Cadillac.” [laughter]

I think she is the only person who could say that and not sound pretentious.

Memories

Matthew Kidd

I knew Anne Terry better than Bette but I got to know Bette because they were close friends. Towards the end of Anne’s life, I played some social bridge with Anne, Bette, and Dan at Anne Terry’s daughter’s house.

I miss the Soledad Thursday night game which came to an end in 2016 after many years of slowly declining attendance. Too many people treat daytime bridge as job, albeit one in which the money flows in the wrong direction. But we all had fun and joked around in the evening. Of course, Bette, Dan, and Nagy were all part of this.

I only partnered with Bette once, at the Soledad Monday afternoon game. She pulled out some crazy bid at the four level—I think she was a passed hand—and the opponents bought the contract. I got in early and started to think. What could Bette have for her bid? I knew she liked to take risks but I also knew she wasn’t a wild player. She must have a void or stiff! So I plunked down an ace from a longish suit, got a nondescript card from Bette, and continued the suit. Sure enough she ruffed and we set the contract a trick for a good board.

Bette I think had a small princess streak that she usually concealed. I don’t know whether Dan gave into this but he also showed her new worlds. Though from Iran, Dan loves pizza as much as any American and he was always taking Bette to unpretentious pizza restaurants. I ran into them twice getting pizza. They always looked so happy together.

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Obituary

Bette Jean (Watt) Cornelius passed away peacefully at home August 5, 2019, in La Jolla, CA at age 89. Loved for her kindness, joyful presence and beautiful smile. Her humor delighted her friends and family alike. Born March 1930, in Fresno, CA, she previously lived in Davis, CA, Manhattan, KS, and Gainesville, FL, loved by everyone who knew her. She was a very successful real estate agent in Florida and California but her real passion was playing bridge. She started the game in her early twenties and continued playing throughout her life in local and national tournaments where she accomplished the rank of Diamond Life Master. She was predeceased by her spouse, Dr. Charles E. Cornelius, DVM founding dean of University of Florida Veterinary School. She is survived by sons, Steven (Leilani), Clifford (Susan), John, and daughter, Aimee (Mark), grandchildren, Kawika, Keahi, and Brennan, and her beloved partner, Dan Dayani.

More memories are available in the comments on legacy.com below the obituary.

More pictures of Bette

Bette Cornelius at Ashley's pub in 2001 At Ashley’s Pub (2001) Bette Cornelius wearing a white hat Dan Dayani and Bette Cornelius at the Soledad Club Dan Dayani and Bette at the Soledad Club (2008) Bette Cornelius and Dan Dayani at the last Thursday night game at the Soledad Club (April 7, 2016) Bette (at right) and Dan Dayani (center) at the last Thursday night game at the Soledad Club (April 7, 2016) Bette Cornelius at a party Bette with Joe Penario in France Bette with Joe Penario in France (May 2013) Bette Cornelius with two friends Bette Cornelius in her kitchen Bette Cornelius with her husband Bette Cornelius Bette Cornelius at the Ocean Bette Cornelius at the Ocean Bette Cornelius on a cruise with Anne Terry Bette Cornelius on a cruise with Anne Terry Bette Cornelius flying Bette flying (June 2013) Bette Cornelius