“We are incredibly saddened to hear about Betty’s passing this morning and want to offer our deepest condolences to her family and friends as we collectively mourn the loss of a true legend, on and off the screen,” states Tom Jacobson, president of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association (GLAZA), the nonprofit partner of the Los Angeles Zoo. “Her work with the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association spans more than five decades, and we are grateful for her enduring friendship, lifelong advocacy for animals, and tireless dedication to supporting our mission,” he goes on to say.
Betty White Ludden’s involvement with Los Angeles Zoo began with its opening in 1966. She officially joined GLAZA’s Board of Trustees in 1974. One of her first major undertakings was writing, producing, and starring in a TV special called Backstage at the Zoo. Betty recruited celebrity friends, including Mary Tyler Moore, Jimmy Stewart, Greg Morris, Amanda Blake, and L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley to appear in the 90-minute special, which aired in July 1974 on KTTV. This was revolutionary at the time and brought the Los Angeles Zoo into the homes of thousands of Angelenos to shine a spotlight on the Zoo’s world-class animal care team and its work behind-the-scenes caring for the animals.
Betty served on GLAZA’s board of trustees continuously since 1974, taking a break starting in 1997 to become an inaugural member of the Board of Zoo Commissioners, a role she served in for eight years. She became chair of the GLAZA board in 2010.
In 2006, Betty was honored by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as the City of Los Angeles’ “Ambassador to the Animals” for her lifelong work for animal welfare. And in 2013, the Los Angeles Chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers made her an honorary zookeeper.
She also wrote a book called Betty & Friends: My Life at the Zoo, with the proceeds benefiting GLAZA and the Zoo. Betty says her main goal in writing the book was to illuminate the role zoos play as centers of conservation and education.
“Betty White Ludden’s legacy will have a lasting impact on all of us here at the Los Angeles Zoo,” states Denise M. Verret, CEO and director of the Los Angeles Zoo. “She was a long-time champion and friend of the L.A. Zoo who advocated for us and helped to amplify the work we are doing to conserve wildlife. She cared deeply for all living creatures – including us. Her loss leaves a great hole in our hearts. The L.A. Zoo cannot thank Betty enough for her decades of support, and we share in this grief with all of you. There truly will never be another person like her.”
From Elka the orangutan, named for Betty’s character in Hot in Cleveland, to her contributions to exhibits like Chimpanzees of the Mahale Mountains and Campo Gorilla Reserve as well as her passionate support of Elephants of Asia, Betty’s presence will be felt on the Los Angeles Zoo campus for years to come.
For those interested in remembering Betty for her dedication to animals, donations may be made by visiting lazoo.org/bettywhite.