Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Author, LGBT ally Betty Fairchild dies


Author Betty Fairchild
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Betty Fairchild, a longtime former San Francisco resident and supporter of the gay community, died November 7 in Dallas. She was 89.

Ms. Fairchild's daughter, Barbara Fairchild, said the cause of death was old age. She said her mother had been in a nursing home for about a year before her death.

Ms. Fairchild had long been involved with Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. In the 1970s she was a founding member of the Washington, D.C. and Denver chapters of PFLAG. Her passion for writing led her to author a book, Now That You Know – A Parent's Guide to Understanding Their Gay and Lesbian Children, which was published in 1979. Her book was one of the first to address the issues and concerns for parents and helped countless families through the coming out process.

The book became an instant bestseller in the community, long before websites and social networking sites like Facebook, and led to years of Ms. Fairchild making appearances on television and at conferences, leading to a devoted fan base of gay men and lesbians. The book was reissued and updated in 1988. Her daughter said that it is still in print, but out of date now.

In 1981, Ms. Fairchild fulfilled a longtime dream and moved to San Francisco, where she lived for 20 years. She continued her involvement with the community, walked in her beloved Golden Gate Park, and in her 70s Ms. Fairchild discovered an interest and talent in watercolors and became an accomplished painter. She continued to paint until her death.

Her daughter said that many older gays probably remember her mother.

"Her greatest activity happened in San Francisco," Fairchild said.

One of those who knew Ms. Fairchild well is San Francisco resident Jim Chappell, who first met her when he was living in Denver and she came to visit him. He had somehow found out she was writing her book, and he sent her his story. She later moved to Denver. Chappell later moved to San Francisco, as did Ms. Fairchild.

"The impact of her book was pretty spectacular," Chappell said. "When you're trying to come out you wonder what do you do about your parents. Here was a parent saying it was okay. It was tremendously liberating and freeing."

Chappell said that Ms. Fairchild was well known while she lived in the city, and that she was a sought after public speaker and interview subject for gay publications.

"She had a unique personality," Chappell said. "At some point in her life she figured out she didn't have to follow the rules and she could be who she wanted to be."

Ms. Fairchild was born in Niagara Falls, New York and went to Michigan State University. She had been married close to 20 years, her daughter said.

Ms. Fairchild is survived by her daughters Barbara and Elizabeth, and a son, Blaine. Another son, Brian, is deceased.

A private family memorial is planned, her daughter said.

Contributions in memory of Ms. Fairchild can be made to Strybing Arboretum, 9th Avenue at Lincoln Way, San Francisco, CA 94122.

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