Betty Ann Lowe, M.D., was an exemplary pediatrician, diagnostician, educator, and advocate for children, Arkansas Children’s Hospital and the state of Arkansas. She was known to be homespun, devoted, generous and tenacious beyond compare! Her parents, John W. and Winnie Lowe were public school administrators and educators. Betty was educated in the public schools of rural Texas and Arkansas, the University of Arkansas and the U of A Medical School venturing out of state only to Boston’s Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School for residency training. She attributed her 25 years of private pediatric practice in Texarkana, AR/TX as preparing her to understand the struggle of families and local physicians and the need for better access to medical care for all residents of the state. To quote her, “To practice medicine for a period of time is a major factor toward being an effective clinical teacher”. She then set out to educate over two generations of pediatric physicians in the next three decades of her career.
Betty was active on boards and committees locally for such agencies as Camp Aldersgate, Easter Seals, and Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families (she was a founder of this group). She also enjoyed being part of the International Women’s Forum of Arkansas and was an enthusiastic supporter of the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas. She was named the recipient of the Father Joseph Blitz Award given by Arkansas Just Communities; the Paul Harris Fellow Award of Rotary International for community service; graduated first in her UAMS medical school class; elected to membership in the medical honor society of Alpha Omega Alpha; 1980 the Golden Apple Teaching Award from UAMS; 1982 the Arkansas Caduceus Club Distinguished Faculty Award; American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)--member, Fellow, Vice President and President (only Arkansan to serve and the second woman to be elected nationally for President); received the Milton Senn Award from AAP in 1996 for contributions to school health; 1982 the President's 75th Anniversary Award at ACH; and the UAMS Chancellor's Award for Distinguished Achievements in Science and Medicine in 2002. Dr. Lowe was named as the first recipient of the Harvey and Bernice Jones Chair in Pediatrics in 1997. President William J. Clinton appointed her as an advisor to his Task Force for Health Care Reform. Because Betty had such a passion for teaching physicians, nurses and other health care professionals her family, medical colleagues, former students and patients honored her with the establishment of the Betty Ann Lowe, M.D. Distinguished Chair in Pediatric Education in 1999. As part of her legacy to ACH she directed her estate to provide for continuing support of the Division of Pediatric Rheumatology at ACH and a Chair was established for a Board Certified Pediatric Rheumatologist in 2013.
She was known as a role model for students and physicians; not just for female students, but also for all students. She was fair and demanded the best effort from herself and others. As one student recalled, “ She did not tolerate laziness” or students who only wanted to do enough to “get by”. “Not living up to individual potential” was a lesson learned at an early age within her family and carried over into all aspects of her professional career. She not only believed that excellence could be achieved in life, but that no one should even consider not “going for it”.
Dr. Lowe achieved many firsts in her career starting at an early age as valedictorian of Fourche Valley High School (Briggsville, Arkansas) and graduating first in her UAMS medical school class; but she never aspired to be ‘first’ only because something would attract attention to her. Quite the contrary, as Medical Director for Arkansas Children’s Hospital and Associate Dean of Pediatrics at University of Arkansas Medical Sciences, she was known to put the patients, families and students first. She insisted that the needs of patients and physicians come before “remodeling her office to look like a real physician’s office when that money could be used for patient care”. The ‘firsts’ she celebrated were those achieved by Arkansas Children’s Hospital in patient care, pediatric education, and clinical research. Over the next twenty-five years Dr. Lowe assisted with a number of firsts for ACH: a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) with 12 bassinets; a state of the art ambulatory care service; open heart surgery; bone marrow transplant; heart transplant; NICU expanded to 55 beds; and a cooperative agreement with UAMS and ACH for the establishment of a joint state of the art Research Institute.
During her tenure as Medical Director the ACH expanded from a 45-bed, 2 patient wards to a modern teaching hospital with more than 260 beds, 70 specialty clinics and a Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Although she worked with excellent boards, administrators, and physicians over those years, there were the “dis-believers” who thought some of her ideas “were off the wall” and just could not be done. Her answer to those was, “We won't know until we try, will we?”
As President of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the first and only Arkansan to date to hold that title, she was an advocate for health care reforms for children and medical education by challenging policies of the day, and advising politicians as well as physicians to “step up to the plate” and get moving with improving situations like poverty, public health issues (clean water, sanitation, adequate food for good nutrition, etc.), and health insurance. Many thought these were inappropriate issues for pediatricians, but Betty was relentless in showing how getting at the “root causes of illness and disease was essential to improving treatment and keeping children well”.
Aunt Bett, as she was known within the family, counted the nieces, nephews, great nieces and great nephews as her children and patients when the need arose. A very special treat for her was getting to visit with her first great-great niece and to get a late night phone call from her mom (the great niece) about what she should do about a “red rash’’! Aunt Bett would have liked for one of her nieces or nephews to become a Pediatrician. When one great niece told her she wanted to pursue Nursing, she replied, “Yep, yep, I think that is great! Be you and do what you love and success and happiness are sure to follow”. She was always supportive of the “kids” as she called them.
At one point she aspired to be a professional basketball player, but gave that up when she realized she would not be taller than five feet four inches. She had tremendous common sense and was practical in assessing her limits. This did not, however, diminish her competitive spirit in high school and intra-mural basketball in college. Her “left hook shot” was un-guardable and rarely missed going through the hoop! She was an avid reader with a very diverse subject matter interest and maintained a large stamp and coin collection; always had beautiful flowers in her garden as well as good vegetables (which she tended herself).
Betty prepared well for her chosen profession and never stopped studying and learning even in retirement. She exemplified what young women in Arkansas and elsewhere can become with education, study, and perseverance.
In summary, three quotes stand out: Betty was quoted on many occasions saying, “If you have any ideas about the future of our society then you know that this depends on making sure our children of today have the best health and education we can give them”. To quote President Bill Clinton at her retirement, “To me, she just took care of kids better than anybody. And she inspired a whole new generation of doctors to do the same. Betty, you have lived your life well in the most noble way possible – pouring yourself out for others”. One of her great nephews who spoke at her memorial told of an instance when Aunt Bett had said something he had done was “cool”. He followed by saying that “ When Aunt Bett said something was cool, now that was cool!”