Betty Bumpers: A Lifetime of Service and Volunteerism
Sep 13, 2012

Earlier this week the stories and images of September 11, 2001 not only reminded me of how fragile life can be, but also how resilient people are in the face of adversity.    These impressions reinforced my lifelong desire to always try my best to help others.  As I continue to identify admirable causes and spend my time volunteering within my community, I sometimes get a bit overwhelmed with all my commitments.  These are the moments when I gain reassurance from the many women who have shown me the way.  Those women that I consider to be important mentors and role models.

Betty Bumpers (second from left) campaigned with First Lady Rosalynn Carter (second from right) to change state immunization laws.

This summer, I was privileged to hear one of these women inspire a room full of immunization advocates.  After just a few moments of listening to Betty Bumpers, it became obvious that her success was determined by her compassion and  committment to others.  This is why it comes as no surprise that at the age of 87 she has been selected for a lifetime achievement award based on her service and volunteerism. Back in April, Betty Bumpers was honored by the Arkansas Department of Human Services’ Division of Community Service and Non-profit Support with the Billie Ann Myers Paragon Award for her promotion of volunteerism and childhood vaccinations.Sherry Middleton, the DCSNS director, presented the award during a Summit conference in Little Rock and explained,

“Betty Bumpers embodies what the Paragon Award stands for.  Through her volunteerism and leadership, she has caused significant improvement in the quality of life for all Arkansans.”

While this award recognized her service in the state of Arkansas, Betty has helped improve the quality of lives all across this country.  In an interview published in Arkansas Business, Betty details how she became involved with childhood immunization issues.  She explains how, as a governor’s wife, she was asked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to help educate people about vaccines.  While she agreed to the challenge, she admits that she was left  “figuring out how we could do it”.

World Health Day, 1974, features (top row, from left) Dr. Roz Epps, Benetta Washington (Mrs. Walter Washington), Betty Bumpers, and Washington D.C. Mayor Walter Washington, along with (second row, from left) Rosalynn Carter, a D.C. mother and child, and an unidentified public health nurse.

Then, after moving to Washington D.C. as a senator’s wife, she took her to First Lady Rosalynn Carter in 1977 and soon the dynamic duo were out there making things happen.  When they began campaigning on the issue, it was obvious that there was a lot to be done since only 11 states had laws that school entrants had to be immunized.  Even though they worked diligently to get all the laws changed, the unfortunate downside was that people started to think they could wait until their children were about to go to school to immunize them.Betty explains,

“Two hundred kids, most of them under the age of 6, died in an outbreak of measles because they weren’t immunized.  That’s when we started Every Child by Two. We traveled to every state, putting together coalitions. Now the immunization rate for children from birth to 2-years-old is 90%.”

This summer, as Betty addressed attendees of the National Immunization Coalition Conference, I realized the amazing progress that this nation has made as a result of the efforts of Betty Bumpers, Rosslyn Carter and Every Child By Two.  With the current outbreaks we are witnessing today, the coalitions and public health departments continue to play an important role in promoting immunizations to an often forgetful nation.  The truth is, if it weren’t for Betty’s lifetime of service, there may not be such a committed network of coalitions to help us today.  As Betty spoke to the crowd of eager advocates, I was once again inspired by her wise words, as well as her many accomplishments.
After her speech, I introduced her to two very special women who have recently “volunteered” to start a new immunization coalition in the state of Minnesota.   I knew Betty would not only appreciate their commitment to service, but would also have some critical words of advice to impart.  As I stood listening to their conversation, I realized how Betty’s service had come full circle.  The truth is that one of the women starting this new coalition began advocating for immunizations, in part, because of her involvement on the Every Child By Two “Vaccinate Your Baby” Facebook page.  At that moment, I recognized how much influence Betty continues to have in motivating the next generation of immunization advocates to stand up and serve.
That is why, on behalf of the many immunization advocates across the country who have long admired Betty’s lifetime of service and volunteerism, I want to say,
Thank you Betty for all you have done, and congratulations on being honored with this well deserved award.

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