Monday, November 17, 2008

Extraordinary Bette

The legendary truck photographer Bette Garber died last week. She had been ill for some time, but kept it quiet, close. That was Bette – she never liked a lot of fuss about herself, was always more concerned with how others were doing.

Bette was a friend of mine, during more than 15 years of my hanging out with truckers and writing about their lives. I met her at the 1994 Mid-America Trucking Show – my first but God knows which one for her. I admired her work, with images and with words, and thought often that she lived a wonderful life, rambling around the country taking photos of trucks.

Bette was tough, sentimental, fiercely loyal to and protective of the thousands of truckers who looked into her lens, to her friends and to the industry as a whole. It seemed that she had met everyone. Although she was noted for her shots of glorious show trucks, she interviewed and photographed and buoyed up countless other truckers. I think they felt better about themselves and their work after talking to her. Being “just a truck driver” meant a lot more, because this camera-bedecked lady had infused them with her love and admiration. Often being in the position of shooting photos myself, and not being trained as a photographer, I watched what she did, and learned from it, improving my jackleg photographer skills.

Over the years, she complimented a couple of my photos, which was as good as a Pulitzer Prize in my book.

Her passing shocked many of us who learned of it only after she had gone on to that big shiny truck show in the sky. Plans are in the works to honor her at at least one truck show in 2009. I’d like to see a Bette Garber award created for every show.

The world, and the trucking world, has lost a unique and wonderful individual, and I have lost a friend. (Photo by Suzanne Stempinski)


  1. For those of you who have inquired about flowers, the family has chosen not to have a funeral service. Some tribute events are in the works and it seems to me that would be Bette's ideal send-off.

  2. So Sad, I never Got the chance to meet her, but always wanted to. My kids, and myself enjoyed her Pictures. I Hope they will announce it here or OOIDA.

  3. A Bette Garber memorial event is being organized. The word is that it is tentatively scheduled for next July in Carlinville, Ill.

    Condolences can be sent to Joel Friedman, 1465 McDaniels Ave., Highland Park, IL 60035.

    Bette's sister "Mikie" Friedman tells us that family has set up a memorial fund in her name through the California Community Foundation ( Donors should write "Bette Garber Memorial Fund" in the memo line on the bottom left of the check, which can be sent to:

    California Community Foundation
    445 Figueroa St. Suite 4500
    Los Angeles, CA 90071

  4. Uncle Darrell HicksNovember 20, 2008 at 3:35 PM

    I first remember meeting Bette in 1996 or 1997 at the first Stars and Stripes show we did at the Alamo, Sparks, NV. I remember a Betty Garber, the wife of the Business Manager at the college where my and I were students. She was a go getter. Was this Bette any thing like that Betty?
    I also thought of Garber Buick, a dealer in Saginaw, MI.
    What a way to meet our rich friend, Bette Garber.

    Yes, I found out that she was rich.
    Rich in Friends: A friend was just that. She stayed in touch with her friends. All of us were a special part of her life. If we needed to talk, she was always there. Friends are friends, regardless! That was Bette.
    Rich in Caring and Giving: If she felt you needed a note, a phone call, a bit of notice in the world around us, she just did it. Again, we became special.
    Rich in "Keeping Your Word": Her word was gold and stayed gold. She kept her word.
    Rich in Independence: Indeed, she was distinctly independent. That is part of what made Bette so special. Her head band and sometimes "dew rag" were a special part of that independence. Her "wittle wed wagon" was similar. That poor chicken never did get loose. "No U Turn? Oh, that's just a sign. I could see a picture in that truck. I was careful!" If she "saw" a picture in her mind, watch out, she was focused.
    Rich in Professionalism: Oh, what a professional she was. Professional photographers are a bit like opera singers, a bit different. They are artistic and see things that the rest of us miss. Bette was the Ansel Adams of truck pictures. Just think, we were touched by a special professional friend.
    Rich in Focus: Focus relates to the paragraph above. She was so focused and also helped so many of us to also be focused in what we do. She inspired us with her Rich Focus.
    Rich Skills: Her camera must have become tired at times. Skills in perception of a fine picture. God, in His mercy, saved her from falling on her head from some of those places she went to take a picture. "So what if I am in a 'cherry picker'? I could see a picture there."
    I never thought to ask her if she had much money. That is just money, not riches. There was no need to ask that.
    She was our Rich Bette. That is all there is to it.

    Bette, we are all richer as a result of knowing you! Thank You, Thank You, Thank You.

    That is my thinking regarding our Rich Friend, Bette S. Garber.

    Darrell Hicks, aka Uncle Darrell, also a Trucker Buddy, helping kids across America to see the positive side of life

  5. Dave Sweetman just shared this with me. Great tribute in the New York Times. Terrific photo by Gary Bricken.


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