In 1988, the flagship publication of The Foundation for Economic Education, The Freeman, published an essay of mine entitled, “Leonard Read Changed My Life.” It was the first article I had ever had published.
By that time, I was working at FEE as program director. My office was just down the hall from the office of Bettina Bien Greaves, a longtime FEE staff member who passed away a few days ago at the age of 100. One of my l highlights in my two years at FEE was periodically popping into Bettina’s office and talking about Austrian economics, Ludwig von Mises, and libertarianism.
Bettina was one of the nicest, most genteel people I have ever met. Every time I would walk into her office to visit, she would drop everything she was doing and visit with me as long as I wanted.
I was amazed that she had attended every single session of the legendary seminar that Mises had held in New York City and had taken verbatim notes of the seminar. She was also the author of several articles and books about Mises and Austrian economics. What a great resource she was. And right down the hall from me!
But that wasn’t when I first met Bettina. I actually met her for the first time in around 1979.
In the late 1970s, I was a young lawyer practicing law in my hometown of Laredo, Texas. One day I was rummaging around the Laredo public library looking for something to read. I came across four little different-colored books entitled Essays on Liberty, Volumes 1-4.
I pulled Volume 1 off the shelf and began thumbing through it. I was thunderstruck. I had never read anything like that. I immediately checked out all four books, took them home, and devoured them.
Consisting of hard-core, uncompromising libertarian essays by such people as Leonard Read, Ludwig von Mises, Frederic Bastiat, Henry Hazlitt, Ben Moreell, Frank Chodorov, Dean Russell, and others, those four books were a Road to Damascus experience for me. They are the root cause of why I ultimately left the practice of law, accepted a position at FEE, and later founded The Future of Freedom Foundation. They are also the basis for FFF’s methodology of introducing sound and uncompromising ideas into the marketplace with the faith that they will reach and influence receptive minds.
Sometime after I read those four books, I discovered that FEE was still in existence. I telephoned them, got on their mailing list, and ordered every book they sold.
I also signed up for a weekend seminar at FEE at FEE’s place of business, which consisted of an old Gothic-style mansion near the banks of the Hudson River in Irvington, Westchester County, New York, which is about 30 minutes north of New York City.
During that weekend seminar, I met Bettina, who was a FEE staff member and one of the seminar lecturers. She invited me and another attendee from Texas to her home for dinner. (As an aside, I am still friends with that attendee. He has been a generous donor to FFF since FFF’s inception in 1989.)
When we walked into Bettina’s house, I was immediately struck by the enormous number of Wall Street Journals that were stacked on the floor along the walls. I asked her, “Ms. Greaves, what are all those Wall Street Journals for?” She responded, “Oh, I’m just behind in my reading but I’ll get to them.” There must have been thousands of back copies stacked on the floor.
I later learned, when I began working at FEE, that disorganization was one of Bettina’s charming characteristics. When I would enter her office to visit, I would comment about the enormous stacks of papers all over her large desk. She would respond, “I know where everything is.”
My Texas friend and I had supper with both Bettina and her husband Percy, who himself was extremely well-versed in Austrian economics and Mises. In fact, he and Mises had even lectured together at a college in North Texas. Percy was the author of two great books entitled Understanding the Dollar Crisis (1973) and Mises Made Easier (1974), both of which are worth reading today.
It was an awesome evening. I later learned that Bettina had a practice of inviting FEE seminar attendees to her home for dinner. It speaks volumes about her.
Over the years, I kept in touch with Bettina. She later retired from FEE and moved to a senior center in a little town in the middle part of North Carolina named Hickory. A few years ago, I was traveling in North Carolina, telephoned her, and asked if she would consider receiving me. By this time, she was in her late 90s and had recently broken her hip. She was ecstatic, responding excitedly that she most certainly would welcome my visit.
When the center’s guide escorted me into her room, Bettina was bedridden but dressed to the nines, including full make-up. The guide later told me that that she had insisted on dressing up because I was coming to visit.
In her room were several stacks of Wall Street Journals, which I commented on, reminding her about all those WSJs I had seen in her home some 30 years before. She laughed and said she was still saving them and planning to get to them some time.
She was as lucid as she was the first time we met. It was a wonderful visit. I’m really glad I made it.
One of the biggest benefits to having joined the libertarian movement has been the people I have been able to meet. Having met this wonderful woman and become her friend has been one of the big honors and pleasures of my life. Rest in peace, Bettina Bien Greaves.