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)